52 Things I Know I Know…and Some I Wish I Didn’t Know

Image(Wagyu coming soon to an Outback near you)

1) I know that Main Street Provisions ought to be my favorite restaurant but isn’t, and this makes me sad. There, I said it.

2) I know the only seafood worth eating on the regular is at Japanese restaurants.

3) I know that chicken parm in any guise sucks donkey dicks and anyone who says otherwise is a prole-pandering know-nothing who touts it simply for clicks from hicks who get their licks and their kicks from endless breadsticks.

4) I know that anyone who stands in line to eat food standing up is a fool.

5) Enough with the hot honey already.

6) When it comes to French bistros, Bouchon has it all over Mon Ami Gabi (which hasn’t changed its menu since Bill Clinton was President).

7) The days of the $15 cocktail are deader than Siegfried & Roy.

8) I don’t care how good you think Din Tai Fung is. It’s a chain and isn’t worth the indignity of trying to dine there. Aria parking bullshit, lines, reservations, and selfie walls…screw that noise. It’s goddamn dim sum, not haute cuisine. BONUS NEGATIVITY ALERT! It’s also full of white girls and FOMO Instagrammers…but I repeat myself.

Africa white people GIF - Find on GIFER

9) I know that the best murder’s row of restaurants these days is at Resorts World. With better marketing, it could be to the 2020s what the Bellagio was to the early aughts.

10)  Prepare yourselves for bread and butter charges (à la 1965). With accountants now running things on the Strip, the nickel and dime-ing will soon creep into your bill faster than a $78 bottle of water:

Image(Lap dances much cheaper)

11) The better the hotel, the better the restaurants. (Exception: the Sahara – a meh of a hotel housing one of America’s greatest steakhouses: Bazaar Meat.)

12) This whole kaiseki thing must be stopped before it gets out of hand. What was once special (A-5 wagyu, o-toro, uni...) has become so over-hyped and commonplace that it will soon be overrun by the sushi-bro crowd — dudes who didn’t know their unagi from their anago four years ago — douchenozzles who ten years ago were throwing down five-hundy on vodka in hopes of getting laid. Now they’re invading our better sushi bars and harshing my mellow. F**k sushi bros with a splintered chopstick.

The Real Bros Of Simi Valley GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY(I am not your bro, bro)

13) Money (the pursuit thereof) and marketing ruins everything in food.

14) There is absolutely no reason to go to the Strip for Japanese anymore.

15) If you want great sushi the way it was meant to be (sliced by dedicated chefs without pretension) head to Sushi Hiroyoshi on west Charleston, or Sushi Hiro on south Eastern, or the granddaddy of our Vegas scene, Yui Edomae Sushi. The first will remind you of a Shibuya hole-in-the wall, the latter two may have the best selection of fish in town. Kabuto is so crowded, no one goes there anymore.

16) I know I am rediscovering my passion for home cooking, and still retain some skillz taught to me by the master teachers of the late 20th Century: Julia Child, James Beard, Craig Claiborne, Pierre Franey, Marcella Hazan (in person) Jacques Pepin (ditto), and others. In gleaning through old cookbooks, I also remembered how terrible most chef cookbooks are (exception(s): Wolfgang Puck and Jamie Oliver – whose books are remarkably straightforward, tasty and easy to follow). Famous restaurant cookbooks are even worse. This little veal roast (from Featherblade Craft Butchery, natch) with a tarragon-mustard sauce was whipped up in about an hour:

Image(Boy’z got skillz)

Image(Just say no to sauce dots and smudges)

17)  I am so over pizza it isn’t even funny. Wanna go get a pizza?

18) I wish Japaneiro were closer to my house.

19) I wish Jamon Jamon had more customers.

20) I know the boom in Spanish food (in Vegas) has reached peak tapas. Probably in the rest of the U.S. as well.

21) You officially have my permission to stop caring about the restaurants in the Bellagio.

22) I know Noodlehead is the restaurant you go to when China Mama is packed to the rafters. What it lacks in size and variety it makes up for in (Chinese) pasta punch and tasty skewered fish balls:

Image(Ballsy)

23) I know that restaurants need to give up their addiction to branzino and find another easy-to-pronounce pisces: Orange Roughy, Chilean sea bass, etc… to sell for the sake of upscale fish fanciers.

24) I know I hate summer truffles and you should too. Summer truffles bring nothing to the party but the name.

25) I know that the minute you see an AYCE sign go up at a restaurant, they are serving the cheapest, shittiest food money can buy.

26) The whole restaurant-cum-nightclub thing (Tao, STK, et al) is so cheugy it hurts. (Look it up.)

27) So is caviar on everything.

28) If you find yourself scratching your head over the weird similarity in menus (roasted Brussels sprouts, fried cauliflower, yellowtail crudo, tuna tartares here, salmon, chicken, steak there, always concluding with a smattering of vegan/vegetarian (to appease those with fear of food)….welcome to the club:

Image(Chou-fleur is so ten minutes ago)

29) Face it: mezcal sucks. It doesn’t suck as much as natural wine, but it blows as much as Moby Dick.

30) Casa Playa is terrible just like I told you it would be.

31) Viva! by Ray Garcia in Resorts World pretty much kicks every Mexicans’ ass in town.

32) Thankfully, no one is inviting me to whiskey-food pairing dinners anymore. Whiskey and food go together like hot fudge and monkfish.

33) I know I am, in every restaurant I enter, usually the oldest person in the room. Which leads me to ask: What happened to all the Boomers? Are they home sipping supper through a straw? Door Dashing every dinner? Consuming all calories on the couch? We are the generation that put T.G.I. Fridays and its ilk on the map, but we also sowed the seeds, 40 years ago, of the food revolution that brought better cooking to all corners of America. Instead of reaping our just desserts, we’ve become a generation of house-bound retirees consuming pre-chewed food in-between Netflix and Fox News updates. Or even worse: we’re cruising our way to god’s waiting room. I blame the Great Recession of 2008-2012, which legitimized hard surfaces, cheap seating, and military jet afterburner noise levels — all in the name of creating a “party atmosphere” — ALL of which came at the expense of comfort. Covid only made things worse. Now it seems, an entire generation is in hiding…or perhaps just seeking peace and quiet before we’re shown the door:

Boomer GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

34) We are more excited about Half-Bird opening than anything on the Strip.

35) Awkward, but those who go to very popular (and entertaining) Twitter feeds like Vital Vegas and Las Vegas Locally for food recommendations always read like people with no taste asking people with no palate to send them to places with no clue. I rest my case.

WHATSHOULDWECALLGRADSCHOOL — HOW I FEEL LEARNING FROM OLDER GRAD STUDENTS

36) I know that I don’t know what’s going on at Eater Vegas and barely care. Apparently I am still blocked from the Twitter feed, even though the previous (hideous) human in charge is long gone. I’ve asked the current custodian to unblock me because I sincerely want it/her to succeed and do some good for our food scene.

37) I know you shouldn’t sleep on Vic & Anthony’s as your go-to downtown steakhouse. The food is solid, the wine list full of finds, and there’s none of that celebrity-touting bullshit to put up with. (Ed. note: I don’t give a shit how many celebrities eat at your restaurants. Celebrities don’t go to great restaurants; they go to places where they’ll be treated like bigshots. Celebrities and good food go together like lamb and tuna fish.  On Strip, don’t forget Delmonico — it is huge but welcoming, and open on weekends (Fri.-Sun.) for lunch, with a great bar and a winning wine list.

38) I know I like the food at Carson Kitchen but hate the atmosphere — beautiful food (like this terrific tempura) served in a cold, impersonal setting which has not improved with age (its or mine):

Image(Hot food, cold decor)

39) I know I’m back to eating Indian again (dots not feathers), thanks to Mt. Everest India’s Cuisine.

40) I know if there’s a restaurant in the ‘burbs I wish I ate at more often, it is probably Khoury’s:

Image(Khoury’s knows how to mezze around)

41) I know that I’m still waiting for the menu at Marché Bacchus to be more ambitiously French. But I never tire of going there.

42) Some days I’d give a digit for a decent green chile cheeseburger.

43) I know dipping a bunch of stuff in a hot pot until it all comes out tasting the same is an Asian thing I will never understand. Nor do I wish to.

Image(The X-Pot packs ’em in)

44) Live fire cooking is overdone and overrated and you know it.

45) So is yellowtail crudo.

46) So are chef pop-up dinners.

47) There are still gems aplenty in Chinatown, but it’s in danger of being overrun by corporate Korean and cookie-cutter Vietnamese.

48) I know that the ghosts of Joël Robuchon, Marcella Hazan, and Pierre Troisgros could reappear with whisks in hand and you still couldn’t get me to eat at that sorry, saddle-sore lowbrow bastion of the faux-cowboy crowd known as the Mount Charleston Lodge.

49) Stop eating food in quotes, i.e., some reshaped chemical experiment pretending to be something you remember from childhood — ersatz edibles that aren’t what they call themselves — all done in service of tricking you into eating them. Fake bacon, cheese made of nut paste, “milk” made of soy juice, “chicken” that isn’t chicken, impossible burgers….just how stupid are you? The question answers itself. F**k you and your fraudulent, dumbass, politically correct fake food diet with a lamb shank.

Image(Vegan “butchers” are a thing, people)

50) For the 10,000th time: tipping is sexist, classist, racist, and elitist. And probably a dozen other ists which I can’t think of right now. If you’re in favor of tipping, you are buttressing the evil confederacy of cheapskate restaurant owners and self-serving servers — neither of whom give a damn about anything but the bottom line in their pocket. As Wendell Berry once said, “Eating is a political act,” and your attitudes about tipping have far-reaching consequences for society. Choose one: Am I a selfish asshole? Or someone who believes in fairness? It’s that simple. You’re welcome.

51) Yu-Or-Mi Sushi has gotten scary good. You heard it here first:

Image(Spooky sushi)

52) I wish I didn’t know that the foodie explosion of the past forty years is inversely proportional to the sustainability of life on this planet. What we have gained in the knowledge and enjoyment of better food has been devastating to our climate and the species we rely upon for our proteins. And by “we” I mean middle and upper-income Americans, Europeans, and Asians.

Every time you eat a piece of sushi, cheap salmon, free-range filet, or Chick-Fil-A, you are contributing to the unholy union, and devastating effects, of human avarice and appetite. True Beluga caviar does not exist anymore because short-term greed triumphed over long term husbandry. Tuna and who knows how many other fish will be next. Chicken dinners used to be special. Now we raise and kill them by the billions to feed our ever-hungry maws. As a species, we are addicted to cheap eats and advertising, and every living thing on the planet is suffering for it.

I have been fortunate in my life to taste the best meat and poultry money can buy. I’ve eaten oysters straight from the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel and striped bass right off a  Nantucket boat. (Once you’ve tasted a proper king salmon, in season, in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll never again order it  anywhere else.) I’ve had wild game and elusive birds brought to my table by chefs who bought them that morning from the hunters who claimed them. My fork has torn at the sweet, gamy well-traveled flesh of langoustines and wild turbot, flown 6,000 miles from their source for my amusement. Fromages fit for a king have sated my taste buds, just miles from where they were made. But it is all to end soon and I know it.

Flavorless truffles will soon be as ubiquitous as Portobellos.  Japan now makes “scotch” whisky. China is getting into the wine game, and what they produce will be passable, but not as good as those they seek to imitate. Uni from Hokkaido or Santa Barbara used to be a treat reserved for those in the know. Pretty soon someone will figure out how to farm them and they’ll appear at Red Lobster. (Okay, maybe that’s an analogy too far, but you get my point.)

Regardless, in a couple more centuries, humans will have used up the animals that have sustained us for millions of years. Overfishing destroyed the Atlantic cod stocks in half a century, probably never to return. We should be ashamed of ourselves but lust and commerce do not allow for such reflection. We are destined to be vegetarians and vegans (as soon as they figure out a proper food replacement for animal protein), and I’m kinda glad I won’t be around to see it.

So the last thing I know I know is to enjoy the earth’s cornucopia of great taste while we still can. Because soon enough, this dude will be making all the rules:

Best Vegan Problems GIFs | Gfycat

Bon appétit!

My Summer of Suck

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The only things worth talking about are sex and death. – Jean-Paul Sartre

I’m supposed to be in Italy right now. Should have been there a week already. But something sinister grabbed me by the lungs three weeks ago and hasn’t let go. All the tests say I’m healthy enough to kayak the Colorado, but my short, panicky breathing tells me otherwise. Taking a deep breath has become harder for me than ordering a vegan pizza.

I’m not exactly bedridden, but a twelve hour plane flight was more than my anxieties could bear. More specialists are on the horizon; we shall see.

In the meantime, I’ve had a lot of time to wonder why the stars have aligned to turn this into my personal Summer of Suck.

Mother dying? Check. Wicked sinus infection that laid me up for most of June? Check. Remember my busted toe? Walking was a pain for almost two months, but that’s small potatoes at this point.

Just when the physical pain, body aches, and soul-crushing loss of a loved one all seemed to be subsiding, I awoke in the middle of the night not being able to breathe. Haven’t spent a conscious minute not thinking about breathing ever since.

Many people close to me (The Food Gal®, my sister, the last sommelier who poured me a glass) think the whole thing may be in my head. With that in mind, I thought I’d explore a few theories about why this is happening. More specifically: what could be weighing on me to the point where a fundamental, automatic bodily function now feels like a daily challenge. Some of these are pretty obvious, others unique to me. Collectively they might supply some answers. Writing them down helps me take a deeper breaths while I’m typing. So there’s that.

GETTING OLD SUCKS

YARN | Getting old sucks. Don't let anybody tell you any different. | Jumanji: The Next Level | Video clips by quotes | c4d2c0cf | 紗

Who knew? It is such a cliche to say that youth is wasted on the young, life is too short, and you never really appreciate someone (or your health) until they are gone. But as you age, the import of these phrases comes into sharp relief, and their meaning weighs on you like a ghostly specter, always there whispering terrifying realities to you.

It’s a given that we always take good health for granted until some affliction grabs us. (You have no idea how much you take your bung hole for granted until hemorrhoid surgery turns your aching anus into the focal point of every waking second. DETAILS UPON REQUEST!)

The list of things that fade with age are too numerous to count. I’ve been blessed with good hair, decent skin and a great memory. (My memory is so good I sometimes wish it wasn’t. There are many events from my past, some many decades old, that I still cringe about when I remember them in excruciating detail.) My eyesight has been shitty since I was six, so aside from those annoying floaters inside my eyeballs, I can’t complain there, either.

Of course I’m heavier than I once was, and losing ten pounds seems like a Sisyphean task, which also describes my sexual performance. (Note to young men: enjoy those heroic erections while you can. After sixty, even with pharmaceutical help, you’re lucky if your penne ever gets to al dente.)

LOVE AND DEATH

“I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” – Woody Allen

Film — Love and Death ,Woody Allen , 1975.(Your table is waiting, Mr. Curtas)

Losing your last parent is another reality that comes to us all. They were there at your beginning — bigger, stronger, wiser than you could ever hope to be. Then, over the decades, the roles reversed. They begin to decline as you ascend, and in their advanced years they look to you the way you once revered them: as a tower of strength, love and protection. If you’re lucky like I was, at least one of your parents will not go gentle into that good night, fighting back and forestalling their inevitable disintegration, retaining their mobility and their nobility right up to the end.

My father faded more quickly than my mom, dying at 80 of a blood disease, but neither of them ever lost their eyesight, their hearing, or their joie de vivre. I still remember my dad sitting up in his hospice bed, fading in and out from whatever pathogens and chemicals were coursing through his veins, but lighting up like a kid at Christmas when I brought him a plate of barbecue. Mom used to joke about his hearing: “I wish it didn’t work so well – whenever we’re whispering in the corner about his condition, he hears every word.”

So I’ve got that to look forward to: being keenly aware, through sight and sound, of every chink in the armor and leak in the machinery which is certain to befall me.

I’m dying and I know it. All of us are. The great Oliver Sacks, while literally on his deathbed, wrote a book “Gratitude” about what kept him going through his terminal illness.  As a (part-time) writer, I can see how absorption in one’s craft can supply an important diversion from the reckoning we face.

Sacks, famously, did it with his obsession with science (he was a neurologist and a total Periodic Table geek). As he put it:

“Times of stress throughout my life have led me to turn, or return, to the physical sciences, a world where there is no life, but also no death.”

It would be nice if religion or (C12H14CaO12)n (calcium alginate) gave me a boner (or helped me sleep at night), but that’s not the way I’m hard-wired. Losing yourself in abstract principles is difficult when you have the attention span of a housefly.

LOSING AMBITION

Forever Lazy GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY(Epicurean education, 21st Century style)

I used to be great at rebooting myself, and reviving my energies, no matter how badly I crapped out at something (marriage, career setbacks, money troubles, etc.) “I never worried too much about you, you’re a survivor,” my mom always said, and I guess she was right.

For 60+ years I was great at springing to my feet and avoiding the standing eight count. Whether it was something good for me (golf, cooking, writing, work), or self-destructive (women, ego, partying like it’s 1999, all the time), my attentions vacillated from the compelling to the insatiable. (One thing that never motivated me was money, much to my ex-wives’ chagrin.)

But times have changed and age has caught up with me. As Garrison Keillor recently put it: “In your seventies, you lose your ambition.”

Boy do you ever. And when someone like me loses his motivation to prove himself (whether in the kitchen, the bedroom, or the courtroom), the wattage within has dimmed and you can feel it.

Younger people do not know this feeling. They still have mountains to climb, and an entire world of commerce exists to trade on their hopes and spurious dreams: selling them everything from cars to clothes to entertainment — each sales pitch aimed at trying to convince us how important something fungible is to our well being.

Amusing ourselves to death, as Neil Postman put it, anesthetizing ourselves in the service of mindless consumerism. The smarter among us suspend our disbelief and indulge ourselves with these perquisites of purchase, while ultimately realizing how little they mean. But you don’t realize this until you’ve drifted into old age, and one day realize how little joy you actually get from everything competing for your attention.

As I age, I have become less and less interested in: politics, the economy, global warming, abortion, culture wars, gender identities and education battles. These are future concerns; at my age, you become a man of the present.

FOOD WRITING FUTURE

Food Blog GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY(Restaurant critic, 2022)

Through divorce, professional pressures and numerous ups and downs, my food writing has sustained me since 1994. Kept me level and focused when (sometimes) all I could see was despair and chaos.

For all those years, no matter what was going on, there was always a script to record, a television appearance to make, or a review to write. Thus did the world of food and restaurants become woven into the fabric of my daily life. Even with the advent of the internet, this website provided us a nice blank canvas (and a bigger microphone) from which to pepper the landscape with our opinions. (Mix. That. Metaphor!)

Social media, as it slowly eats our brains, has only made things worse. “Everyone’s always sellin’,” my dad used to say, but until a dozen years ago, the only ones selling were those with something to sell, as in: an actual product. Now, everyone is their own brand, and woe to anyone under forty who isn’t constantly promoting themselves. The whole thing is exhausting, and definitely a young person’s game.

I understand why businesses do it, but long for the old days when restaurants slaved away and hungered for a little recognition in traditional media, rather than constantly bombarding customers with promotions, food porn, and chef’s lifestyle pics. I yearn for the undiscovered gem and hidden treasures — not the umpteenth video of pizza goo,   advertising disguised as influencing, or whatever the f**k this is:

Chantal Sarault / Foodie Beauty | Page 2330 | Kiwi Farms

You may find this hard to believe, but a dozen years ago, I was begging, BEGGING, restaurants to get on social media. Now my Instagram feed is nothing but a tsunami of selling, and all social media is one gigantic marketing platform.

What you gain in information, though, you lose in the romance of discovery and the seduction of surprise. Where’s the fun in knowing the whole menu, and what the food will look like, before you step through the door? By the time you get to most restaurants these days, you know everything from the brand of olive oil they use to the names of the chef’s children. God bless Chinatown, where a bit of modesty is still practiced, and they let the food (and not shite like this) do the talking:

Mishti Rahman Influencer GIF - Mishti Rahman Influencer Pretty - Discover & Share GIFs(I am so influenced now to eat this pizza)

I NEED A HOBBY

For forty years I’ve been obsessed with food. For almost thirty I’ve been writing about it. But as I’ve said since 2014: people are not interested in reading about food anymore (see above).

Something is needed to fill in the gaps of more free time which you and I will inevitably have in our later years.

My wife calls it something to propel me forward. Something which is decidedly lacking in my world right now.

On the bright side, I made a very good risotto this week which made me happy. I learned to make risotto from Marcella Hazan (in person) and that makes me proud. Maybe I’ll turn this into a cooking blog. Heaven knows the world needs more of those…

https://twitter.com/i/status/1553819294646947840

I kid. I kid. The world needs another cooking blog like I need another ex-wife. Showing off your kitchen skillz is something for which social media is beautifully suited. I think I’ll confine my creations to those venues. Maybe that’s what I should do on Tik Tok, when I’m finished looking at young women lip-syncing in their underwear.

I SUCK AT GOLF

…but not as much as this guy:

Charles Barkley Golf GIFs | Tenor

Golf was once my go-to therapy for everything from business pressures to a broken heart. I started playing when I was twelve and played a pretty respectable game (10 handicap) for about twenty-five years. My best golf came in my forties when I could break 85 on a good course without breaking a sweat. (BRAGGADOCIOS? YOU BET!)

Then, I gave it up….for twenty years! Many things conspired to end my love of golf: a divorce, the expense (playing became criminally expensive during the Tiger Woods era), losing a well-paying job in a big law firm, re-booting my career as a solo practitioner in the early aughts, and finally (and probably most important): the food thing taking off at the same time. Put them all together and my golf bag became a forlorn, discarded symbol of another me in my garage; so starved for attention that when the clubs were eventually stolen, it was probably a year or two before I even knew they were gone.

But all golfers are secretly gluttons for punishment. So against all odds, I decided to dust off the old irons about a year ago and have been diligently pounding balls at the driving range at least once a week — fully aware that my best golf is like a long-gone ingenue whose beauty will never be recaptured…even if an old diva like yours truly won’t admit it:

Is it better to speak, or to die?(Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my pitching wedge)

There are many reasons for this: 1) Golf is hard. 2) Golf is really hard when you have a twenty-pound gut on you that wasn’t there twenty years ago. 3) You’re way less limber. And finally, 4) your bifocals wreck havoc on any attempt to focus on the ball — either just sitting there, waiting to be whacked, or anywhere it happens to go in flight (usually sideways).

In other words, I’m not as strong, or as flexible as I once was. I can’t see the ball worth a shit whether it’s right in front of me or flying through the air. (The skulled grounders I hit I can follow just fine, thank you.) My coordination has faded and my swing now flows less like syrup and more like a busted jalopy constructed of spare parts.

It makes NO SENSE whatsoever for me to put myself through this humiliation, but am I going to stick with it? You bet!

At this point, golf is like sex: something I used to be fairly good at that still beckons me, even though my performance falls woefully short of my previous standards. The benefit of golf is there’s no one balefully staring up at you when, once again, your putter comes up short. But I continue to chop away, taking comfort in the words of three-time Masters champion Jimmy Demaret: “Golf and sex are the two things in life you don’t have to be any good at to still enjoy.”

NOSTALGIA BITES

Nostalgia GIFs | Tenor

The late Christopher Hitchens once said that when you turn sixty, you start looking back. I’ve delayed that process for ten years, but am now reckoning with it. But It’s hard to turn a rose-colored gaze on the gauzy memories of the past when sadness lays heavy on your breast and you have trouble taking a breath.

I have too many pictures, too many books, too many menus, and too many memories to cull through. Things that once comforted me, now feel like a burden. The thought of looking through decades old albums of times both good and bad, should bring a smile to my face. Instead, I think of them with dread, as if revisiting the past diminishes the present, or reminds me of the person I will never be again.

SELF DIAGNOSIS

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Some people (like me), love to go whistling past the graveyard — feigning nonchalance with the confidence of a teenager — but we know we’re only fooling ourselves. The Boogeyman under your bed may be in your imagination as a child, but the Grim Reaper is all too real, and standing at the end of your personal cornfield as an adult — ready to reduce your sentient stalk to a pile of dust.

Maybe the cure is simple for my summer of suck: to find meaning in the simple pleasures and tender mercies of everyday life. It has been very hard for me to do that over the past two months, but keep trying I will, because giving up is not yet an option.

Growing old will not make me a better person. (Turning fifty and settling down with my wife did that.) I intend to be the same feisty, not-suffering fools dude I’ve been for my entire adult life. There will be no religious conversion, no new leaves overturned, and no kinder-gentler persona adopted. By my age, your personality is pretty much set in stone, but the stage upon which my performance occurs doesn’t have to be. I may fit the official definition of an old man but I am not ready to be one.

Something has to change.

I need to find another mountain to climb.

Major Awards – 2021

Image 1 - 45 Inch Full Size Leg Lamp from A Christmas Story
“It’s a major award!”

It was a weird year to say the least. Many local places came roaring back from Covid, but the Strip remains stuck in neutral. Only the opening of Resorts World breathed some new life into what is rapidly becoming a very stale hospitality industry. But let us not dwell on the pathetic and the plebeian; let us now consider the “Major Awards” of 2021 — kudos conveyed completely at random, without rhyme but with righteousness and reason — the only infallible, incisive, inviolable and (sometimes) inhospitable trophies we can impart off the top of our head:

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Pizza of the YearRebellion Pizza’s New York slice (above). Like a taste of lower Manhattan in goddamn Henderson. Go figure.

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Get ya Coney Island (pizza?) right here!

Weirdest Pizza – Some oddball concoction called the “Coney Pie” at Guerilla Pizza in the Hard Hat Lounge. Think a Nathan’s chili dog on a Detroit-style pie (see above). Stoner food to be sure, but tons o’ fun when you’re more baked than a brownie factory.

Best Restaurant That’s Closest to My HouseMain Street Provisions

Restaurant I’m Glad Is NOT Closer to My House Burgundy French Bakery & Cafe. Otherwise, I’d be here every day.

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

Did somebody say BURGERS?

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Main Street’s chopped champ
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Smashed succulence from Nevada Brew Works

Burger(s) of the Year, Las Vegas Division (4-way tie) – Soulbelly BBQ, Oscar’s Steakhouse, Nevada Brew Works (the thinner single cheeseburger above), Main Street Provisions (above, top with sesame seeds). Fat or smashed, double or single, downtown’s burger scene has got you covered.

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Burger of the Year, International Division – this green chile champion (above) from Dr. Field Goods at the Sawmill Market in ABQ was so good it stopped me in my tracks.

Worst Burger of the Year – Victory Burger in downtown’s Circa hotel. Let’s take it as a given that if you’re going to call yourself a burger restaurant, you should know how to cook one. Two visits produced a grey, overdone, mealy patty that could’ve come from a cheapo buffet. Both tasted like defeat.

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

Requiem for a seafood dream….

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The Food Gal was happy/sad this last night

Saddest Closing – Costa di Mare. Let us know when a restaurant prettier than the one above opens up. I won’t hold my breath. The Food Gal is still holding back her tears.

Worst Meal of the Year – (toss up) Mint Indian Cafe – terrible service, dirty interior, and food that tasted like it’d been in a steamer tray for a week. On the plus side: at least it was cheap. And then there was Hugo’s Cellar – where the menu, the attitude and the carpet haven’t changed since 1983. It definitely takes the stale cake. On the plus side: at least it’s insanely expensive.

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Ocean trout with ponzu at Garlic Yuzu

Pleasant Surprises of the Year Braeswood Tex-Mex BBQ, Wally’s, Milano, Aromi, Mt. Everest India’s Cuisine. Garlic Yuzu (above)

Never Again Award – Delilah

Destined to Fail Award – Superfrico

Gotta to hand it to Delilah and Superfrico — both convinced me that whatever lies ahead on the Las Vegas Strip will hold little of my interest. My glory days ran out around 2015 (about when the Strip’s did), and I don’t see anything compelling on the horizon. Don’t cry for me, Argentina, it was a twenty-year run with the best seat in the house for the greatest restaurant revolution America has ever seen. But watching the old cows get milked, and restaurants become raucous nightclubs (more concerned with distraction than food) holds as much interest for me as waiting in line for Chick-Fil-A. Las Vegas is about to pivot hard into tour bus/cruise ship territory and yours truly plans to be dining in Europe when it does.

Strangest City Visited – Minneapolis. Vibrant, locavore-driven food scene. Great steakhouses. Thriving warehouse district. Desolate downtown. One giant schizoid metropolis that’s so far from the town Mary Tyler Moore made famous it makes Los Angeles’s wasteland feel like Times Square.

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L.A. excellence….

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Divine dining in LA
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Michael Cirmarusti blew Babs and me away

Fancy-Dancy Dinner of the YearProvidence, Los Angeles. With Barbara “Call Me Babs” Fairchild. ;-)

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May I introduce you to The Proper Lunch Bunch…?

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I’m in the back, drunk again
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My usual at Cipriani
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Lunch(es) of the YearCiprianigrazie to the Proper Lunch Bunch (above), for making my Fridays the best in the business.

Question from a dozen chefs: “Why do you eat at Cipriani so much?”

Me: “You put out a product this good at lunch, with this atmosphere and level of service, and I’ll eat at your restaurant every week, too.” How do you say “feng shui” in Italian?

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Bagels and other beauties…

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Bagels of the YearLife’s a Bagel. Don’t even think of arguing with me (or Kathy Kelly, above) about this.

Breakfast of the Year – “The Irish” at 7th and Carson (sorry, no tasty snap)

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Take Note: Dylan knows you can Bank on these wines

Wino of the Year – Bank Atcharawan at The Patio Wine Garden. Better wine bars (Garagiste, Ada’s, French Cellar by Partage) have now become part of our culinary landscape, but this Bank takes the bubbly with his terrific Thai menu and prices that can’t be beat.

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WTF?

Washed Up, Recycled, Past-His-Prime, Against All Odds Lazarus Award Todd English. I’d like to meet the business brain who said to himself: “Self, you know what Las Vegas really needs? MORE Todd English!” That said, we are rooting hard for his downtown boutique hotel/restaurant to be a YUGE success. To be perfectly candid, we’d be cheering for him if he served nothing but a rehash of the 1990s food that made him famous…which he will.

Restaurant I Won’t Touch With a Ten-Foot Pole…or a three-foot Czechoslovakian – JING. The year I start paying attention to restaurants crawling with MILFS and middle-managers on the make is the year you can hook my big toe to a shotgun and make me eat the ammunition.

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Ya gotta love….

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Hot diggity Danish

Hot Dog of the Year – nothing beats the Danish dogs at Saga Pastry + Sandwich.

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Chinese Banquet of the YearRainbow Kitchen. The most elemental and sophisticated Cantonese food in being cooked these days in the mini-Chinatown that’s sprung up on South Rainbow Blvd. The above was a special banquet, but the daily dim sum and fresh catch offerings are unbeatable.

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Even uber-food blogger So-Chan-san agrees on this Greek

Greek of the YearSaavas Georgiadis

Sticking the Landing Award Steve Young, who jumped from Edge Steakhouse to top toque at Al Solito Posto.

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And now for some negativity….

I’m Mad as Hell and Not Going to Take It Anymore Award – All MGM properties (Bellagio, MGM, etc.).

Between the parking fees, resort fees, closed restaurants, limited hours, $25 valet charges, corporate bullshit heaped upon more corporate bullshit, etc….we have a hard time getting excited about pulling into any MGM hotel. There’s a reason we mostly hang out at Wynn, Venetian/Palazzo and Resorts World these days, and the reason is the Wall Street ruination of our hotel/casino industry…which explains…

Restaurant(s) I Wish I had Visited More Often…or Even Once – Joel Robuchon, Michael Mina, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Bardot Brasserie, Carbone, Yui Edomae Sushi, Raku.

To be fair (to myself), the year started under the shroud of limited seating and slogged through months of abbreviated hours from which it still hasn’t rebounded. Monday-Thursday were always my prime eating out/putting in the legwork days, and Covid restrictions pretty much chopped that time in half. (Friday is for three-hour lunches, Saturday is amateur hour, and Sunday is for resting the liver.) Despite Vegas’s somewhat “return to normalcy”, it is still harder to find a good Strip restaurant open on Monday-Tuesday than a T-bone at Tacotarian (sigh).

Yawn of the Year – Casa Playa

Yawning GIFs | Tenor

Hotel No One Ever Talks About Anymore Award – Mandalay Bay. Remember when it had the beautiful Shanghai Lilly? Hubert Keller’s equally gorgeous Fleur de Lys? Burger Bar? The awesome Aureole? TWO Rick Moonen restaurants? Most are gone, some are hanging on, but food-wise, this place is a sad shell of its former self.

Opening Most Ignored By Everyone But “Influencers” Who Still Think It’s A Big Deal To Be Invited (“Hosted”) To A Second-Rate Hotel Being Revamped For the Fourth Time So They Can Sell Their Souls For a Free Crab Cake – Virgin Hotel

Worst Reboot of a Second-Rate Retread – Virgin Hotel. Nothing says, “We’re out of ideas,” like sticking a Todd English joint in your joint.

Dumbest Restaurant Names – Superfrico, Night + Market, Boom Bang

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Delicious doings at Resorts World

Most Funnest Opening – Resorts World

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Shameless Plug No. 1:

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Who was that tan man?

Funnest Lunch (other than my usual Cipriani Friday-fest) – Giving a speech to the Las Vegas Rotary Club about Vegas’s food/restaurant history over the past 30 years (see above).

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Miscellaneous Meals of Mixed Emotions…

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Compelling Thai in a curious casino corner

Greatest Asian Least Likely to Succeed Night + Market. Part of me wants to applaud the Virgin Hotel for this move, as it was the best Thai food we had this year. But I’ve looked around this sad place and think the Raiders have a better chance of winning the Super Bowl than a cutting-edge Southeast Asian restaurant (specializing in “orange” and “natural” wines) has of wooing a bargain-hunting clientele who wouldn’t know an orange wine from Tang.

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Risotto Milanese with marrow at Aromi

Ole Sole Mio Unsung Italians AwardAromi, Matteo’s, Brera. Other ristorante get more pub, but this trio can go pappardelle to pappardelle with any of them.

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The Crown Jewel Box of Vegas restaurants

Jury Is Still Out AwardLe Cirque. Like many, we were totally jazzed about its re-opening…until we learned it was now a $388/pp all-tasting menu format ($288 for the “plant-based” option). Whether they pull it off will say a lot about the future of upscale dining on the Strip, but our first impression is they are turning this Maccioni masterpiece into another Michael’s, i.e., a comp room strictly for rubes and high-rollers. We shall see, but in the meantime, Sirio is rolling over in his grave.

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Need a drink?

https://twitter.com/i/status/1440862108619460614

Bartender of the Year – Justine at Yu-Or-Mi Sushi Bar (above). With or without her mask on, she wowed us with her impromptu cocktail creations.

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Make It Stop Power Rangers GIF - Make It Stop Stop Power Rangers - Discover  & Share GIFs
I’m begging you

Make It Stop – Tasting menus, wagyu, octopus, scallops, foam, craft beers, local distilleries, branzino, salmon, “plant-based,” hot chicken, Italian restaurants, kale, weird-ass grains, smoke, “cannabis-infused,” caviar on everything, female chef empowerment, white people making sushi, “woke” restaurant writers, ridiculously long podcasts, in-feasibly large cuts of meat, crudo, chefs with mission statements, knowing way too much (or even anything) about a chef’s sexual identity, gooey food videos, influencers, thinly-disguised promotional events pretending to be about “charity.”

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In the best of taste…

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Nobody beat this meat in ’21

Steak of the Year – Nothing got our heart beating faster than this hunk o’ hunk o’ aged, charbroiled steer muscle from Manny’s Steakhouse’s private herd in Minneapolis. No bull.

That Place Is So Crowded No One Goes There Anymore Award Esther’s Kitchen

Noodlelicious Award – Big Dan Shanxi Taste

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Crystal pork-spinach dumplings at Rainbow Kitchen

Humpty Dumpling/Dat Sum Dim Sum Award – these dumplings never get a bad wrap, don’t gyoza too far, bao to no ones, and have a wonton disregard for the competition:

Xiao Long Dumpling

ShangHai Taste

China Poblano

Rainbow KItchen

China Mama

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We were Korean tears of joy over this beef

Korean Beef of the YearPark BBQ, Los Angeles (above)

Cholesterolfest of the Year – Totoraku, Los Angeles

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Sushi of the YearSushi Hiroyoshi (above)

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Desserts of the YearSweets Raku (pictured); SW Steakhouse (not pictured because our lousy, poorly-lighted pics didn’t do them justice).

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Tacos, tacos y mas tacos…and more!

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Carnitas tacos at Sin Fronteras

Tacos of the Year, Las Vegas Division: Braeswood Tex-Mex BBQ, Birria El Compa La Cruda, Sin Fronteras Tacos

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Ditroit chicken tacos
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Taco crawl, LA-style. Eating street tacos the LA way

Tacos of the Year, California Division:

Carnitas El Momo

Ditroit Taqueria

Mariscos Jaliscos

Sonoratown (above, feeding our friend GT off the hood of an SUV)

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Best Reason For Going To Henderson: Rebellion Pizza (above)

Best Neighborhood to Eat In – Chinatown

Worst Neighborhood(s) to Eat In – North Las Vegas, where gringos fear to tread. Runner-up: Southern Highlands – filled with folks with more money than taste. At least NLV has an excuse: its residents aren’t 1/100th as wealthy as the corporate bigwigs counting their bitcoins on the SH golf course.

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Best Addition to the Vegas Food Scene Featherblade English Craft Butchery. Need proof? Here ya go:

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Finally, a veally veally good butcher in my ‘hood

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And this little piggy….

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We went whole hog in 2021

Low and Slow Award(s):

I love smoked meat like Oscar Goodman loves a martini. This year we traveled back East three times to sample pork shoulder (aka Boston butt) and whole hog in the Carolinas and Georgia, the way it was meant to be. Once pigs cross the Rockies, something seems to happen to them: they all end up tasting like a cross-over country song – the bland leading the bland into Taylor Swift land. Getting that ethereally sweet, moist, tender, finely-grained, fluffy, slightly smokey delicacy on a bun is an art, and like sushi, the gradations are subtle but important. And, as with the best raw fish, once you’ve tasted the real thing, ham-handed attempts hold no currency for aficionados. Many thanks to Brandon and Mary Coleman Smith for giving us the Carolina ‘cue tour of a lifetime.

Skylight Inn BBQ

Smiley’s Lexington BBQ

Soulbelly BBQ

Speaking of pork…

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Pork Chop of the Year – the above piece of pulchritudinous porcine perfection at Osteria Fiorella

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Dive Bar of the Year Chez Jay, Santa Monica, CA

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We didn’t know what to call them, but boy did we eat a bunch of these this year…

Muffin/Scone/Cookie Award – Whatever this chewy blueberry-infused beauty is at PublicUs (above), we couldn’t get enough them.

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So-Chan-san’s English is far better than my Japanese

Food Vlogger of the Year – So-Chan-san, whose So-Channel on YouTube and Instagram covers our Asian food scene in more depth than I ever thought possible. Looking for insights on the inscrutable? He’s your man. Is it all in Japanese? You bet your sweet yen it is! But it comes with subtitles, of course. That’s why it’s so interesting! If you don’t get hungry after watching one of his videos, you need to check your pulse.

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Fabulous Faces of 2021:

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Spaniard of the YearRafael Salines-Catala (above), whose Jamon Jamon is a hidden gem so good it reminds us why god gave us taste buds.

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Celebrity Chef of the Year (coincidentally, also a Spaniard) – Jose Andres, because he still shows up and talks to everyone like an old friend when he does.

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One busy gal in 2021

Hit the Ground Running Award Nicole Brisson. Opening one Brezza or Bar Zazu at Resorts World would be extraordinary. Two is practically unthinkable. Along with Caviar Bar, Wally’s, and Carversteak, her two new venues have given this hotel a murderer’s row lineup not seen since the Cosmo came online over a decade ago.

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The best, Jerry, the BEST!

Best New Restaurants of 2021 –

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Brezza

Caviar Bar

Wally’s Las Vegas

Jamon Jamon

Le Cafe Du Val

Aromi

Milano

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Mapo dofu at Chinglish

Chinglish Cantonese Wine Bar

Soulbelly BBQ

Ada’s

Al Solito Posto

The Legends Oyster Bar & Grill

Rainbow Kitchen

Win Kee HK BBQ & Noodle

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Legendary jambalaya

States visited – 8 -Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, New Mexico, Minnesota, California

Foreign countries visited -0- for the first time in 10 years. ;-(

Restaurants visited – 380

Cheapest sit-down meal (not including fast food burgers and tacos eaten off the hood of a car) – Waffle House (somewhere in Georgia), where twenty bucks smothered and covered us in southern-fried goodness.

Most expensive mealn/naka, Los Angeles, where we dropped a cool $1,100 for two on a Japanese kaiseki dinner.

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New York’s loss was Minnesota’s gain

Meal of the Year Spoon & Stable, Minneapolis. Sorry Las Vegas, despite all the self-aggrandizing, mutual back-slapping going on around here, none of you put out a product as jaw-dropping as Gavin Kaysen in the great white north. Even his simple squash soup (above) gave us a woody. Note to chefs: When’s the last time you took the time to put out a superior soup? Kaysen is a chef’s chef who is in his restaurant every night, content to live where he works, and leave the empire-building to glory-seekers. His was also the best wine list I saw this year — hefty (but not too), eclectic, fascinating, and fairly-priced. Our dinner there reminded me of one we had in Toronto a few years back at a tiny, unassuming place called Edulis. The food was simple and stunning, riven with technique and flavors that penetrated your rib cage. And it was casual and a la carte, and half the price of the equally spectacular (if much more formal) Providence. Not fer nuthin’, but all of my exceptional meals in 2021 took place out of town. Las Vegas still has a lot of growing up to do.

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And finally, let’s get to the really important stuff…..

Shameless Plug #2:

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After 27 years of writing about food, I’m officially something

Podcast (shameless plug) of the YearWhat’s Right Sam with Sam & Ash – Perhaps I’m slightly biased, but this is the only podcast in Vegas that actually gives you good info on where to eat (every Friday when a certain aging boomer grabs the microphone).

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Eat at the restaurants featured above and you will eat very well, indeed. So tune in every Friday, and have a happy holiday from all of us in the #BeingJohnCurtas orbit!

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