Eating Las Vegas

John Curtas is …

The Top 20 Fine Dining Restaurants in Las Vegas

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ELV note: A major metropolitan/international newspaper recently asked us to compile a list of the top fine dining destinations in Las Vegas — places that are sui generis, nonpareil, and unmatched for the finest food and drink in town. Most of these are price-is-no-object joints; all of them serve some of the best food of its kind you’ll ever find. (To balance things out, we also submitted a list of “Hidden Local’s Favorites” containing a number of places that mere mortals can afford.) Buon gusto!

THE TOP 20 FINE DINING RESTAURANTS IN LAS VEGAS

 ‘e’ by José Andrés  (Cosmopolitan) – The toughest seat to score in town, made by e-mail reservation only, gets you one of eight “golden tickets” for a molecular ride the likes of which you won’t experience anywhere else this side of Espana. Feran Adria was Andrés’ spiritual mentor, and his influence is everywhere on the seasonal menu. In the wrong hands, this cuisine is pretentious; here it is profound.

 

Lotus of Siam (953 E. Sahara Ave.) – Multiple expansions haven’t dimmed the star of America’s best Thai restaurant. (So sayeth me and every other critic who’s eaten here.) Go early for dinner or late for lunch if you want to get a table, and bring a thirst for German/Austrian/French wines. Bill Chutima’s Riesling list has become almost as famous as his wife’s northern Thai cooking. Not exactly “fine dining,” but so good it deserves to be in whatever “best of” list gets drawn up for Las Vegas restaurants.

 

Prime  (Bellagio)  Eighteen years on, Prime still boasts one of the prettiest dining rooms in America. A revamped bar area provides more room for nibbling and sipping, and the main room blends beefiness with romance as well as anyplace in which you’ll ever enjoy a peppercorn-crusted strip steak.

 

Michael Mina (Bellagio) – Start with the tableside-mixed tuna tartare (everyone does), then throw caution to the wind as you order the whole lobe of foie gras. Follow that with Mina’s decadent lobster pot pie and a rack of lamb and you’ll have plenty of reasons to hit the Stairmaster once you return to your life of kale smoothies and denuded chicken.

 

Twist by Pierre Gagnaire (Mandarin Oriental) – Twist isn’t for everyone. Like all restaurants in the Gagnaire oeuvre, it takes a decidedly adventuresome tack towards most of its menu. Here they take creative seasonality seriously, making boredom an impossibility. Get a tasting menu, buckle your seatbelt and enjoy the ride. Or get a steak and bathe in one of the best Bordelaise sauces in the business.

 

Joël Robuchon (MGM) – The big daddy of big deal meal restaurants in Vegas. You’ll be surrounded by Asian high rollers, a few punters, and some Eurotrash, but none of that will matter once the food starts showing up. Intricate, high-flying French are the watchwords here, but it’s best to have a second mortgage on hand before you approach the wine list.

 

Sage (Aria) – High ceilings and theatrical décor set the stage for some of Las Vegas’ most dramatic food. The seven-course tasting menu is a flat out steal at $150, but you won’t want to miss the standards on the menu – foie gras brûlée, roasted sweetbreads, kusshi oysters with peppers – either. The bar and bar menu are as stunning as the main room, and an excellent spot to drink your dinner, if that’s your thing.

 

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (MGM) – There are multiple L’Ateliers around the globe these days, but this one takes a back seat to none of them. Chef Steve Benjamin has been at the helm since it opened (in 2005) and the dishes pouring forth from his open kitchen never fail to astonish. The dizzying array of menus and a la carte options encourage abandon but demand restraint. Do what we do: just close your eyes and point. And get the sweetbreads. And the hangar steak. And the spaghetti. (ELV update: Benjamin recently left his position at L’Atelier to pursue other adventures in sunny SoCal. We have not been in since his departure, but if the Robuchon machine runs true to form, we doubt there will be a dip in the quality of the cuisine.)

 

Carnevino (Palazzo)– Vegas has the greatest steakhouses in the world, next to New York, and Mario Batali’s steak and wine emporium can go hoof to hoof with them any of them. Here, the beef is aged in-house, for months not days, and the “riserva” steaks call to you from the ginormous menu, as do the pastas, salads and house-made salumi. The wine list is a dream for lovers of the “killer Bs” —  Barolo, Brunello and Barbaresco. But bring your bank.

 

Bazaar Meat (SLS) – Calling it a meat emporium is a little unfair, since the seafood and wacky Spanish (read: molecular) creations are every bit as good as the steaks. Everyone raves about the cotton candy foie gras, but it’s the tartares (both tomato and steak), that deserve your attention first. Then it’s on to jamon croquetas, suckling pig, or whatever else suits your fancy in the Andrés repertoire…and it’s a huge repertoire.

 

Restaurant Guy Savoy (Caesars Palace) – When it’s on its game, one of the best restaurants in the world, with neither the pyrotechnics of Robuchon nor the in-your-face creativity of Gagnaire. What Savoy brings is gorgeous, sophisticated food that doesn’t need to pirouette on the plate to impress. The deep, refined flavors do that all by themselves. The wine list is a treasure trove, with more than a few bargains, if you’re willing to dig.

 

Carbone (Aria) – A New York import that arrived in the Nevada desert with its pedigree intact. Throwback dining packs them in every night, meaning: lots of table-side histrionics to go with gutsy pastas and the priciest veal parm this side of Manhattan. You’re going to hate yourself for loving this place as much as you will.

 

Mr. Chow (Caesars Palace) – Purists may balk, but Mr. Chow is about unabashed big-deal meal service, a luminous setting, and a sense you’re being fed by, and dining with, grownups. Get the Peking Duck and the Dressed Dungeness Crab, and enjoy this throwback in all the right ways.

 

Wing Lei (Wynn) – A jaw-dropping room, white-gloved service, and upscale Chinese food (at a price) that will knock your socks off. Be you a Mandarin or from Main Street, you’ll find something to love on this menu, but we’re partial to the steamed fish, hand-pulled noodles and perfect stir-fries.

 

Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar (4480 Paradise Road) – Slightly off the Strip lies one of our best Italian restaurants, family run, and dishing up the kind of pastas and proteins that compete with anything Giada or Mario can throw at you. The Ferraro’s (who are always on the premises) had the good sense to put Francesco di Caudo in charge of the kitchen a couple of years ago, and he upgraded the food to put it on par with their world-class (Italian) wine list. Leave the gun; take the cannoli.

 

Yui Edomae Sushi (3460 Arville Street) – Nonpareil sushi and sashimi, edomae (Tokyo) style. Simple, direct, and sliced by the piece for an omakase meal like none other. This is purist sushi, truly Japanese, with nary a California roll in sight. The A-5 wagyu beef (grilled over binochatan charcoal), will take your breath away with its silkiness, fattiness and price.

 

Le Cirque (Bellagio) – A jewel of a restaurant in a jewel box of a space. The Maccionis (who own the original one in New York) have little to do with this outpost any more (other than a licensing deal with the Bellagio), but the food, wine and service remain as spot-on as when Sirio himself was kissing cheeks and badgering waiters. The food – under culinary wunderkind Wilfried Bergerhausen – has gotten more inventive and less stuffy.

 

Picasso (Bellagio) – Where else in the world can you walk around a restaurant and see a dozen works of the master himself? Even if you wouldn’t know a Picasso from black velvet Elvis, you’ll still be impressed by Julian Serrano’s menu that, after eighteen years, continues to get the best venison and scallops west of the Hudson. The wine list could keep you occupied for days.

 

Raku/Raku Sweets (5030 W. Spring Mountain Road) – Mitsuo Endo was the first chef to bring elevated, izakaya cooking to Las Vegas (in 2008), and he still does it best. Raku is for a certain kind of adventuresome food lover, but its sweet sister a few doors down serves finely crafted desserts that can be analyzed, consumed wholesale, or admired for their art.

Estiatorio Milos (Cosmopolitan) – The best fish in town, period. Also the best Greek food in town by a Peloponnesian mile. You’ll pay through the nose, but you’ll also be shouting “Opa!” with every bite. Come for the $30, three course lunch if you’re on a budget.

 

LOCAL’S HIDDEN FAVORITES

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  1. Settebello (2 locations – 9350 W. Sahara Ave., 140 S. Green Valley Pkwy.) – Smoke-tinged, wood-fired, Napoletana-inspired pizza at its absolute best.

 

  1. EATT (7865 W. Sahara Ave.) – Three young French fellows are trying to prove that real French food (and desserts!) can be as healthy as it is delicious. And they do. And it is. (See picture above)

 

  1. Japaneiro (7315 W. Warm Springs Road) – Perhaps the best food in the unlikeliest location in Las Vegas. Kevin Chong’s fusion fare is spot on, whether he’s mixing and matching uni with oysters, or putting out an umami-laden rib eye for two.

 

 

  1. Other Mama (3655 S. Durango Blvd.) – Seafood in all its guises, tucked away in a strip mall, overrun nightly with intrepid foodies and chefs on their day off.

 

  1. Chada Thai & Wine (3400 S. Jones Blvd.) – The name says it all: incendiary food married with the wines (mostly white, mostly Riesling) that match it so well.

 

  1. Yuzu Japanese Kitchen (1310 E. Silverado Ranch Blvd) – A little slice of Tokyo hidden behind a car parts store. Authentic sushi; amazing kaiseki; off-the-hook omakase.

 

  1. Carson Kitchen (124 E. Carson Ave.) – Small but mighty. The restaurant that started the downtown food revolution. Good, inventive small plates; good cocktails; good luck getting a seat.

 

  1. Bratalian (10740 S. Eastern Ave., Henderson) – Traditional Neapolitan Italian in a quirky dining room dished by the sexiest Brazilian-Italian dish ever to vongole your linguine. Carla Pellegrino is a local legend who gives Henderson denizens a reason to go out at night.

 

  1. Standard & Pour (11261 S. Eastern Ave., Henderson) – Cory Harwell’s newest venture (just down the road from Bratalian) is a Carson Kitchen clone in all the right ways. Everyone gets the escargot, and the meatballs. You’ll want to get everything on the menu.

 

  1. Marche Bacchus (2620 Regatta Drive) – Al fresco dining connected to a wonderful wine store. The markups are gentle ($10 over retail) and the tables are filled with oenophiles day and night. By all means, buy that second bottle and tuck into the best brunch in the ‘burbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The List

It’s been quite the Winter/Spring. Trips to Italy, France, Germany, and Georgia. Countless trips to Chinatown, and too many trips taken (kicking and screaming) to inexplicably popular Italian-American restaurants.

Since I live and work downtown, I pretty much cover that beat without breaking a sweat, and getting to the Strip is no big deal either, although more and more I find myself less and less interested in dining there.

Maybe that’s because the Strip has finally settled into what it was always destined to be: a conglomeration of tourist restaurants, each formulaic in its own way, each playing a massive numbers game. That doesn’t mean there isn’t inspiration to be found there, but for every Le Cirque, Bazaar Meat or Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, there are dozens of places just going through the corporate motions.

And let’s face it: we at ELV can only tell you so many times what a wonderful place Prime or Libertine Social is without sounding like a broken record.

And dollars to doughnuts, the next time (if ever) we re-visit the Eiffel Tower Restaurant, Yellowtail, Rao’s or Mizumi, we will have the exact same experience we had five years ago. That doesn’t mean these places aren’t any good, it just means that they’re not that interesting (anymore) to anyone who has eaten in them multiple times.

So, in our constant attempt to keep ourselves interested, and this site fresh in its 10th year of operation (Yes, we celebrated our 9th anniversary on April 1. Hooray us!), we periodically publish The List: a current snapshot of everyplace we’ve eaten in the past several months, along with the occasional pithy, erudite, incisive and astute commentary for which we are known.

As usual, all places mentioned are listed randomly and come highly recommended…unless otherwise noted:

THE LIST

Urban Turban Remarkable, chef-driven, upscale Indian (dots not feathers). Not your usual mix and match soups and stews.

Evel PieVincent Rotolo shoots and scores! By bringing a slice of the New York streets to Fremont.

Andre’s Bistro & Bar – The Dover sole is worth traveling across town for. Fabulous short wine list. Equally fabulous desserts.

Prosecco – Only one quickie meal so far, but encouraging enough that we will return.

Cleo – Still our best Mediterranean.

The Kitchen at Atomic – First bites were tasty and well-composed, if under-seasoned. The rib cap was a standout.

Le Pho – The soup that saved Las Vegas.

Carson Kitchen – Almost three years old and better than ever.

La Comida – Tequila heaven, solid if uninspiring Mexican.

Rosallie Le French Café – Now with wine to compliment Vegas’s best quiches and pastries.

Cornish Pasty Company – Gut-busting fare for the Welsh coal miner in you. Nice beer list, friendly people.

Vesta Coffee Roasters – Compelling coffee, amazingly good (if limited) food, always a superb soup-of-the-day.

The Goodwich – The Patty deserves to be in the hamburger hall of fame.

Bazaar Meat – I’ve run out of praise for this place.

Carnevino – Ditto.

El Sombrero – Politics schmolitics, Irma Aguirre makes great Mexican food.

Estiatorio Milos – The fish is still the freshest in town, and the lunch is still a steal.

Le Cirque – Every gastronome in Vegas (all twelve of us) now makes a seasonal pilgrimage to taste Wil Bergerhausen’s current menu.

Italian-American Club – Fuggidibadit.

Piero’sREALLY Fuggidibadit.

Starboard Tack – Holy Habana, Batman, the rum cocktails here are no Joker! The food has yet to be tried. The location is in the middle of nowhere.

Morel’s Steakhouse & Bistro – Solid from top to bottom. Three meals a day.

CUT – Someone CUT the cheese, please!

Bardot Brasserie – My only issue with BB is that once you’ve eaten here a few times, you’ve basically covered the whole menu.

Marche Bacchus Tom Moloney is now at the helm. Here’s hoping they let him do his thing.

Americana – Will it beat the jinx of this jinxed location? First bites showed some flair, but flair (and a gorgeous setting) may not be enough.

Niu-Gu Noodle House – Best xiao long bao in town, by a Shanghai mile. The stir-fries are other-worldly too.

YuXiang Korean Chinese Cuisine Korean-Chinese is a sub-species of Korean cookery. It’s hearty, it’s a little more refined than traditional Korean fare, and it’s delicious.

Chada Thai – Sometimes I forget how fabulous the food is at Chada Thai, but one bite reminds me of how elevated Thai cooking can be. (See pic at top of the page.)

Chada Street – Slightly rougher around the edges than its sister restaurant a couple of miles down Spring Mountain Road; no less excellent; incredible wine/champagne list. There’s almost no reason to drink wine anywhere else in town.

Chengdu Taste – Real Szechuan that will light you up. Not for the faint of heart or timid of palate. Easy-to-navigate menu and congenial staff make it easy on round-eyes.

Yuzu Japanese Kitchen Best. Japanese. Period. Call ahead for a kaiseki dinner that is straight from a side street in Shibuya, or wander in and just say “omakase, arigato!”

Capital Grille – My favorite chain. Wonderful room with a view; excellent steaks, classic salads.

JinJu Chocolates – Bon bons galore! Great cookies too.

GelatologyDesyrée Alberganti’s concoctions are the stuff ice cream dreams are made of.

Yui Edomae Sushi – A slice of Japan in our own backyard. Fish so good it tastes like it just leapt out of Tokyo Bay. Call ahead and tell ’em Curtas-san sent you.

Japanese Curry Zen – How can rice on gravy be so tasty?

Meraki – Fast casual Greek. Made by guys who know their way around a souvlaki.

Origin India – Top to bottom, our most consistent, classic Indian. Nice bar and wine list, too.

Shang Artisan Noodle – Shaved or hand-pulled, these noodles are life-changing.

Momofuku Umami bombs away! Strictly for Millennials who don’t know any better.

Milk Bar – Over-sugared, pre-packaged pedestrian fare raised to heights of slavering devotion by the Instagram generation. Nothing about it or Momofuku is as good as its reputation.

Udon Monzo – Eat anything here (or at Shang Artisan Noodle) and you’ll realize how overrated Momofuku (and David Chang) is.

Zuma – We are sooo over big box Japanese, but the food here is pretty nifty.

Turmeric Flavors of India – Four meals, each one worse than the last. Proceed at your own risk.

Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar – Why anyone would eat at Piero’s when Ferraro’s is just down the street is anyone’s guess.

RM SeafoodI’ve had my last meal here. I’ll start caring about this place when its absentee celebrity chef does.

There you have it: four months, forty-four places (give or take) — and for one of those months we were out of town. Don’t let anyone ever tell you they eat out more in Las Vegas than we do. We’re doing it so you won’t have to, and so that you, dear consumer, can spend your eating-out dollars wisely.

You’re welcome.

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I Like Italians, Really I Do

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I like Italians, really I do.

Without Italians we would have no pizza; no opera, no Joe DiMaggio.

Leonardo Da Vinci? Big fan.

Fiorella La Guardia? How would you get to New York without him?

There’s a downside of course. Italy has heaped cultural abomination after cultural abomination upon America for centuries. Italy has also given us Jersey Shore, Topo Gigio and tiramisu. And for every Dean Martin, there’s a Sacco and Vanzetti. You show me a Giorgio Armani and I’ll raise you a Donatella Versace.

And let’s face it: much of the worst of our popular culture begins and ends in Little Italy. Frankie Avalon: Italian; Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino: really Italian; overuse of the word fuck: so fucking Italian it fucking hurts.

Without any of these, you must admit, the world would be a better place. No Italy, no Sonny Bono. I rest my case

But these are minor quibbles. In the great scheme of things, Italy and Italians have been at the heart of advancing western culture for two thousand years. From Cicero to Galileo to Enrico Fermi, our arts and sciences have been enriched by Italians. Where would art be without Michelangelo, or music without Jerry Vale?

Italians may have a slightly inflated view of themselves, but on the whole, their pride, at least in Europe, is justified.

The trouble with Italy isn’t Italians; it’s with Italian-Americans.

More specifically, what they’ve done to the food of this great nation, when they decided to move over here en masse around 120 years ago. Because for every beautifully composed carpaccio you find in America today, there are football fields of baked ziti; for every bottle of Chianti Classio, an ocean of Gallo Hearty Burgundy is drunk. What Italian-Americans have done to pasta is criminal, and what they do to salad and chicken (like putting chicken on salad) should be grounds for an en masse deportation.

Italian-Americans take a certain perverse pride in perverting their cuisine (and then shouting from the rooftops how “fucking awesome” it is). The crimes against nature they commit in thousands of Italian restaurants in America daily are too numerous to count, but for every Rao’s, Carbone or Buddy V’s out there trying to elevate American-Italian classics, there are, at any given moment, 10,000 cooks pouring a quart of canned sauce onto a half pound of overcooked pasta and smothering it with Sysco cheese, all to the ohs and ahs of its goomba-loving audience.

In spite of twenty years of refinement, publicity and a quest for authenticity by chefs, food magazines, and home cooks alike  — bad Italian food still rules the roost in this country. And its popularity shows no sign of abating.

Exhibit One: The Italian American Club.

Possessing all the charm of a church basement, the furnishings of a convention hall, and the comfort of an Elk’s Lodge, this ode to ersatz Eye-talian packs a crowd in nightly that seems quite content with the fare. So who am I to argue?

I’m not and I won’t. Much.

I will however point out a few things to a few of you that might make you think twice before showing up.

Those chairs you sit in will be straight from that church basement. The crowd is so old it makes Piero’s look like the Encore Beach Club. The music (from a non-stop, not-untalented crooner) comes straight from the Perry Como school of somnambulant listening, and the art on the walls (should it catch your eye) will remind you of pictures that once did the same thing on a street corner.

Of course, calling anyplace called The Italian-American Club “old school” is like calling Mussolini a bit of a hot-headed, fascist dictator. It’s like calling Sophia Loren a gal with a nice figure, or a Lamborghini a two-door sedan.

Exhibit Two: There’s a classic tenet of Italian restaurants that goes: The more pictures of Frank Sinatra there are on the walls, the worse the food. Be advised: there are lots of pictures of Frank Sinatra on these walls.

The circumstantial evidence says it all, and the food says it louder than anything.

 Old school salads taste of white lettuce and bottled dressing. The butters come in three shades of tasteless margarine; the veal Marsala tastes of veal but not Marsala; and the aglio e oglio pasta (pictured above) tastes only of burnt garlic. In old school Italian-American restaurants, you’re not supposed to notice these things. In old school Italian-American restaurants, everyone is too busy filling up on cheap starches and proteins to give a shit, and the owner is too busy counting his cash to care.

On the plus side, I’d eat here again in a heartbeat over Piero’s, so there’s that.

My mother still makes me a dish (occasionally) from my childhood that I love. It consists of ketchup combined with brown sugar, poured over pork chops upon which a lemon slice or two has been placed. She then bakes the whole thing to death in a 400 degree oven for an hour until the chops are like shoe leather and the lemons have shriveled into tart chewy circles of sourness. The whole thing is quite the culinary massacre but I love it. It reminds me of sitting at our kitchen table in Winter Park, Florida and feeling the cool linoleum beneath our feet while the whole family hunches over dinner in 1965 on a hot Sunday night. I know this recipe is terrible but I love it to this day. The trouble with Italian-American restaurants is that they  based an entire cuisine on such atrocities, and then seduced an entire country of white-bread/unseasoned meatloaf/pot roast loving Protestants to buy into it. What little taste and imagination this food might’ve once had (Tomatoes! Garlic! Olive oil! Herbs!) has been so co-opted by bad restaurateurs, and so diluted over the past hundred years that the iconic dishes are now little more than pentimenti of what was once noble and delicious.

Of course nothing is preventing the cooks from doing these classics right. Done right they’re some of the most toothsome recipes on the planet. But doing them right is not what bad Italian restaurants are about. Doing them cheaply and shoveling the slop to a bunch of customers conditioned to accept these short cuts (because anything beats tuna-noodle casserole and a jello mold), is what created this lousy genre.

White lettuce and burnt garlic never killed anyone, of course, and if no one complains, nothing is ever going to change. In America, for the last half of the 20th Century and the first 16 years of this one, nobody’s complaining. Except Italians from Italy, of course, and anyone who cares about what they eat.

ELV’s dinner for two with an $11 glass of wine came to $76, and he left a $20 tip.

ITALIAN AMERICAN CLUB

2333 E. Sahara Ave.

Las Vegas, NV 89104

702.4357.3866

http://www.iacvegas.com/

P.S. For those of you who want to read more on this subject (and discover that I’m not just pulling some of these fucking theories out of my fucking ass) I recommend you to read John Mariani’s How Italian Food Conquered the World, and John Dickie’s Delizia! – The History of Italians and Their Food. Certain Italian-Americans won’t bother, I’m sure, preferring instead to think of me simply as a fucking asshole.

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