Eating Las Vegas

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“Chinatown” photo essay

Okay, maybe “photo essay” is a bit pretentious, but the staff at ELV has never been known for its humility, and calling them a bunch of digital snaps we were too lazy to upload when we posted The Chinatown that isn’t (below) doesn’t convey that certain je ne sais quoi for which ELV is known.

There are more than 40 restaurants on the three mile stretch of Spring Mountain Road known as Las Vegas’s Chinatown. I’ve eaten in 34 of them multiple times. The following snaps will give you a “taste” of the real thing.

LAVO – the restaurant as “Bathhouse”

Just when we thought The Palazzo couldn’t get anymore overstocked with swanky, over-designed and overpriced restaurants, comes the announcement that the Tao restaurant/nightclub group will open LAVO – described as a Restaurant/Bathhouse/Nightclub – there in August.

At last view, which was….uh….this past Saturday night, the existing ones that have opened their doors (Table 10, Carnevino, Morel’s, Dos Caminos, Mainland, CUT, Dal Toro, Restaurant Charlie/Bar Charlie et al), are hardly turning them away. Meaning: any party of 4 (and multiple parties of 4) could’ve walked into any of The Palazzo restaurants on a weekend evening and would’ve been seated immediately and received a “thank you very much for coming” from every member of the staff.

Despite reports of strife between the Palazzo and Tao teams (a lawsuit was filed, Shellie Adelson and his henchmen tried to have this Tao beached, bad faith allegations were exchanged), all appears to have been settled. Translation: the Tao boys get to open as planned, and Adelson takes another hit from the press and the courts.

So where will the customers be coming from? Well, it’s a fair bet none of them will be going there for the cuisine of Ludovic Lefebvre. This former top toque at L’Orangerie and Bastide in LaLaLand is one of the most talented chefs on the planet. His small plates menu of Spanish, French and Italian cuisine – served in a space that derives its inspiration from “…the bathhouses of ancient Mediterranean culture…” will no doubt be the equivalent of Yo Yo Ma playing “Turkey in the Straw.”

And why would such a creative, acclaimed chef relegate himself to serving 1,000+ idiotic poseurs a night? You tell me and we’ll both know.*

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* Perhaps he’s been Tourondel’ed to the dark side named for the ultra-talented Laurent Tourondel – one of the greatest chefs in America – who now devotes those talents to building an empire of superior steakhouses and burger joints.

The Chinatown that isn’t

Las Vegas’s Chinatown is neither Chinese nor a town. But in a city where a pseudo-neighborhood that is neither green nor a valley is named just that, or where a Town Center isn’t either, and a Town Square is neither, I guess the appellation fits as well as any.

This stretch of Asian-themed strip malls, starting a mile west of the Strip, could just as easily be called Asiatown or Vietnamtown or Koreatown. In fact, of late, Malaysiatown might even apply. The only country on the Pacific Rim that is scarcely seen among the 40+ restaurants here is Japan; and even it has several worthy representatives.

Once you pull your car into one of these malls, you enter a unique world that will be more fascinating (if a little smokier and less friendly), than the one you just left. Some things take a little getting used to, but that’s all part of the adventure in leaving your culinary comfort zone.

Some of these include being the only round-eye around, the perfunctory service, and seeing lots of edible animals with their heads still attached. A little easier to digest will be how cheap dinner for two can be. In fact this area may be the only one in all of Las Vegas where you have to work at spending more than $50 for dinner, for two.

Also, don’t be put off by all the places specializing in massages and “relaxation” therapy, even if more than a few appear to be the sort where your happy ending for the evening doesn’t need to end with the evening’s meal. Rather, take comfort in the crispy sides of roast pork and the lacquered, bronze sheen of fowl hanging in windows, the pungent smells of marinated beef being barbecued tableside, and the hordes of native families chowing down on the authentic food of their homeland. All of which will make it seem like you’ve taken a short trip to a strange and foreign land which, in a sense, you have.

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