Major Awards – 2022

Leg Lamp From The Movie A Christmas Story –

2022 was the year that wasn’t.

Everything was supposed to come together this year, remember? The Covid insanity had passed, the economy was starting to boom again, demand was pent up and the party-as-a-verb crowd was raring to go.

Instead we had inflation, supply chain teeth-gnashing, water woes and travel nightmares.

We started the year in Paris and ended it in London. In between two tasty bookends there was grief aplenty, health issues and the gnawing sense that the town and body we live in both have their best days behind them. A dear friend (original Proper Lunch Buncher Bruce Bloch), and local food writer (Greg Thilmont) — both left us far too soon — leaving us reeling from too much sadness compressed into one twelve month period. It is one thing when folks older than you kick the bucket, quite another when your juniors start checking out without warning. If 2022 will be remembered for anything, it will be recalled as the year of serious reassessment — the time when the preciousness of time and life was brought to the fore.

On the bright side, deaths tend to bring people closer together (“Even if we’re just whistling past the graveyard,” as my mom put it), so we saw more of our relatives (and children) than we have in any year in recent memory; we lost a little weight (TRUE!); regained our golf swing, and kept our hearing and our hair, so there’s that.

Another year-end bonus was a very successful Desert Companion Restaurant Awards fête, which had me tearing up with pride at how far these awards have come.


From very modest beginnings, these magazine awards have endured and flourished over 25 years. In the early days (1997-2005) I was a committee of one, and for years, I paid for the tiny plaques and awards myself, and drove all over town delivering them to a recipients. (You can still see one near the front door at Sen of Japan.) Now, under the stewardship on Nevada Public Radio, there’s a yearly banquet, with all the trimmings, and they’ve grown into something meaningful to our culinary community, instead of a solo poofter bestowing them like some imperious potentate bellowing into the wind.

Which means there’s a fair amount of pomp and circumstances accompanying them…not to mention a tremendous lunch. The banquet was a big success; glasses were raised and speeches given, but not before the crowd was acknowledged as we usually do to begin the proceedings:

Peasant GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

2022 will also go down as the year where your majesty truly lost a bit of his appetite…but not so much that he cannot bestow credit where credit is due, one last time, for the myriad of marvelous meals he enjoyed.

So here goes….first with the actual, important awards (decided by a committee of Desert Companion food writers), then the Major Awards you’ve been waiting for….with commentary, of course.

Desert Companion


Neighborhood Restaurant(s) of the Year (tie):

Khoury’s Mediterranean Restaurant:

Khoury Mediterranean Restaurant - Las Vegas Sun News

Rosa Ristorante:


Asian Restaurant of the Year: Trattoria Nakamura-Ya:

Trattoria NAKAMURA-YA | Tokyo Style Italian Restaurant Las Vegas

Restaurateur of the Year: John Arena


– the godfather of the Las Vegas food scene, and a force of nature in the world of pizza, Arena should’ve gotten this award years ago. (My bad.)

Hall of Fame (tie):

Piero’s Italian Cuisine – which didn’t care enough to show up for the awards (or even acknowledge them), so we won’t do more than give them a mere mention here (even though it was some of my best prose in the ‘zine).

Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge – which was my father’s favorite restaurant, right down to the indelible fruit platter brimming with melon (at varying degrees of ripeness) and cottage cheese. No matter what you think of the Miami Vice lighting or gargantuan portions, there’s no denying its place in the firmament of iconic Vegas eats.

Rising Star of the Year: Eric Prato, Garagiste Wine Bar:

 – to quote the deathless prose of the wordsmith-in-residence:

Prato’s mission is educating customers to try something new, and if the steady stream of younger, adventuresome wine lovers at the bar is any indication (along with his burgeoning online sales), he is succeeding by tapping into (or helping create) a market no one in Las Vegas knew existed.

Chef of the Year: Nicole Brisson:

 – Never was there a more deserving recipient. Can I pick ’em or can I pick ’em?

Strip Restaurant of the Year: Brezza – A hit right out of the gate, Brezza scored the daily double with this award and the kudos to its chef. As Heidi Knapp Rinella put it in DC:

Brezza is the Italian word for “breeze” — an apt name, as executive chef Nicole Brisson and business partner Jason Rocheleau have imbued their Resorts World restaurant with a freshness that seems to drift from the Amalfi Coast.

New Restaurant of the Year: Scotch 80 Prime – the name might not be new (this is its second incarnation), but the steakhouse that now occupies a corner of the Palms is a whole different beast that the previous tenant. Chef Marty Red DeLeon Lopez has this joint firing on all cylinders with an arresting menu of seared cow classics mixed with creative apps and killer sides. A unique addition to our thundering herd of steer emporiums. Jim Begley:

…it can be difficult to differentiate one [steakhouse] from another. But Lopez manages do so in the details. He highlights his heritage in his tiradito with the inclusion of traditional Filipino ingredients such as jackfruit, pickled papaya, and taro chips. His kitchen takes risks with burrata topped with uni and Osetra caviar, pairing seafood with cheese, and the sweet sea urchin assuming a role normally reserved for fruit. 

Restaurant of the Year: Anima by EDO – When it came time to debate ROTY the discussion was short, obvious and unanimous. No other restaurant in Las Vegas made the splash that Anima did this year.



With the prestigious awards out of the way, let us further flounce some flummery, and focus on the fatuous. Here they are food fans, our favorites follies of feast and misfortune in 2022:


Worst Meal of the Year – Lago

Runner-Up – whatever this was (at The Pepper Club):


So Not Worth It Meal of the Year – Wakuda:


Cry Me a River Award – every chef or owner who bent my ear in the last year over staffing woes, supply-chain issues, and money problems, and then was spotted cavorting through Tokyo, slurping up Tuscany, or making whoopee at a Mallorcan fish market.

Saddest Closing – Saga Pastry + Sandwich

You Tell Me and We’ll Both Know Award – the inexplicable appeal of Asian hotpot…….the only meal on earth where no matter what you order, everything always ends up tasting the same:

Image(…and we’ll have the A-5 wagyu that tastes just like the U/15 shrimp…)

Schadenfreude AwardDavid Chang’s overblown, overrated, overpriced Majordomo fiasco at The Palazzo. It takes real talent to screw up a steakhouse in Vegas, but Mr. Bao Bun figured out how.

I Was Totally Wrong Incorrect GIF - I Was Totally Wrong ...

We’re So Over It


QR codes

orange wine

natural wine

any beer it takes more than two words to describe

celebrity chefs


food competitions

pizza fetishization

gooey food videos

impossible to get into restaurants

smoked cocktails

smoked everything

smoked anything but smoked meat

communal seating


tweezer food

“vegan” butchers

“vegan” cheese

let’s face it: vegan anything

Japanese beef

tequila bars

Martha F**cking Stewart

Tits on a Bull Award – I’m rooting hard for you, Eater Vegas, because you could be such a force for good on the Vegas food scene. But the reliance on p.r. fluff and listicle after listicle needs some seasoning with actual opinion. On the plus side, at least Bradley Martin is nowhere to be found. ;-)

Hallelujah GIF - Hallelujah - Discover & Share GIFs | Madea ...


Best Restaurant That’s Closest to My House (toss-up) – Main Street Provisions and Esther’s Kitchen

Favorite Watering HoleGaragiste

Steak of the YearSparrow + Wolf:




Sushi of the YearSushi Hiro:


Runner-UpYUI Edomae Sushi

Most Anticipated Opening of the YearLotus of Siam at Red Rock

Italians of the Year – these guys:

Image(Vetri & Trees sounds like a haberdashery)

Lunch(s) of the YearCipriani


Lunch of the Year (European Division)La Tour D’Argent Paris (France, not Kentucky)

Brunch of the YearAl Solito Posto

French Meal of the YearGuy Savoy (Paris)


Runner-UpGuy Savoy (Las Vegas)

Japanese Meal of the YearRaku:


Runner(s)-UpSanga, Kaiseki Yuzu

Chinese Meal of the YearGenting Palace (Resorts World)

Runner-UpRainbow Kitchen

Korean Meal of the YearSoyo Barstaurant

Tacos of the Year (toss-up)Sin Fronteras Tacos and Letty’s

Image(Quesotacos FTW)

Favorite Meat-festRincon de Buenos Aires

Runner-Up8oz Korean Steakhouse

Burger of the YearMain Street Provisions


Runner-Up BOTYNusr-Et:


Slider of the Year – this mini-filet on a hot-buttered bun at Jamon Jamon Tapas:

Brisket of the Year – this beauty from Tamez BBQ (a speck of a roadside stand) in Athens, Georgia:
Hot Dog of the YearWindy City Beef N Dogs:
Salad of the Year (because The Food Gal® insists we have some green on this page) – the Caesar at Esther’s Kitchen:


Pleasant Surprise of the YearBalla

Runner-Up PSOTY: Amalfi by Bobby Flay

Most Expensive Meal of the Year – a $400 fagri (red porgy) at Milos:


Image(It says right here: I owe $14.72 because you had the salad with the dressing on the side)

Most Fun Food Event Not Connected with Any Awards or Eating: Las Vegas Book Festival:


Butcher of the YearFeatherblade English Craft Butchery


Podcast of the YearEat.Talk.Repeat. – Have you been living under a rock or something?

Hole-in-the-Wall of the YearThe Daily Bread


Most Visited Hotel Because It Has the Most Good Restaurants in the Most Accessible SpaceResorts World

Restaurant We’re Rooting Hardest ForMariscos El Frescos:


Cappucino AwardMothership Coffee Roasters



Crabcake of the Year – this concupiscent crabby concoction at Vic & Anthony’s:


We Wish We Had Eaten Here More AwardKaiseki Yuzu:


Food Writer to Watch of the Year Brent Holmes

Vlogger of the YearSo-Chan! (Even if you don’t speak Japanese, his videos are informative, well-produced, and ton of fun….and mercifully short.)

Lifesaver Awards – to those places we repaired again and again when our favorites were busier than a whisky concession at an Irish wedding:

Noodlehead – Szechuan noodles in a pinch

Izakaya Go – all-purpose Japanese fills the bill:


Mt. Everest – friendly and fast Indian

Matteo’s – always underrated; always excellent

Delmonico – great steaks; fabulous Friday lunch

Yu-Or-Mi Sushi – so much better than The Pepper Club

Carversteak – just edged out for steak of the year by two heavyweights

Wally’s – best wine selection and prices on the Strip

Ed. note: In case you’re wondering, we didn’t include any meals/restaurants from our recent London trip to any of these categories, it’s because we are just days back from the trip and want to share our British musings with you in a separate post early next year.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all!

Cheers Frank Sinatra GIF - Cheers Frank Sinatra Bing Crosby - Discover & Share GIFs

The Covid Diaries – Vol. 6 – Saluting Caesar


Day 21, Saturday, April 4 – Salad Sanity

You’re going to need a Caesar salad sometime during this shutdown, so you might as well learn how to make a proper one.

Like all things simple and exquisite, the difference between passable and preeminent is in the particulars.

This will not be your typical recipe. It will be an essay on salad excellence. Read carefully; go slowly. Forget everything you know or think you know about Caesar salads.

This is the only recipe you need. It hews closely to the original but is not note-for-note. When you’re done you will have a thing of beauty that can honestly said to be a real Caesar salad, not the lame imitations you get in 95% of the restaurants in America.

Step 1: Tear two heads of well-washed and dried Romaine lettuce leaves into a large wooden bowl

Image(It’s the wood that makes it good)

The leaves should be torn into large pieces. Anal retentive cooks remove the greens from the ribs, but the crunch of the ribs is really essential. The original Caesar was probably made from the smaller, firmer ribs in the center of the Romaine head. This is what Julia Child used in her “original” recipe in one of her early cookbooks. More recent video from Caesars Hotel in Tijuana show big-ass long flat leaves being used. (The salad in the video looks horrid, btw. More on this later.)

The problems with long flat leaves are too numerous to count. To begin with, they’re a bitch to eat. You have to cut them; dressing flies everywhere; you need a bib to enjoy yourself. Secondly, they eliminate all visual appeal —  it looks like is someone just threw long-ass lettuce leaves on your plate.

Many claim the original salad was made to be eaten with the fingers, hence the huge flat leaves being served today. This assertion doesn’t pass the smell test…unless you’re a lazy restaurateur trying to justify why you’re not bothering to tear lettuce leaves into edible sizes.

42 years of research have led to two conclusions: the “original” may have used much smaller, inner Romaine ribs, but by the 1950s, Alex Cardini (the inventor who named it after his brother Caesar), was telling people to tear the Romaine into large, bite-size pieces — the better to hold the dressing and thus, the piquancy which made the salad famous. Whatever they’re doing at Caesar’s restaurant looks more like cost-cutting than anything else.

The wooden bowl is essential. Don’t even think of using anything else.

If you don’t have a wooden salad bowl, any large one will do. Better too large than too small.

Step 2: Correct Croutons

Image(What does a great salad rest on? A crouton!)

Good croutons are as essential to a good Caesar as a toga or being knifed to death by sixty of your best friends.

There are several ways to make garlic croutons — dip already toasted cubes in garlic oil, fry the bread in garlic oil, or smear the bread with garlic paste, then toast it in the oven — but the horse’s mouth (Alex Cardini) was quoted in a 1976 cookbook (Entertaining With Wine – Ruth Ellen Church), as advocating toasting the large cubes of the bread, then dipping them in garlic oil, then spreading them with either anchovy paste or chopped anchovies. (Note: this is the only time in the “original” Caesar recipe that garlic and anchovies are mentioned.)

This same recipe mentions the croutons should be large, and about 4 per salad serving. It says nothing about just plopping a large slice of French bread on top of awkward-ass lettuce leaves.

To begin: slice some slightly-less-than-fresh French bread. (Good white sandwich bread can also be used.) You want your croutons crispy on the outside, with the barest hint of give and softness within. Hard-as-rock croutons are the sign of an amateur, or worse, store-bought. (Guilty admission: the person typing these words has used store-bought croutons on occasion. For this he is deeply ashamed.)

The croutons should be inch-to-inch-and-a-half rectangles, but don’t despair if they are irregular in shape. The main thing is, they shouldn’t be too small or big thick slices of lame-ass bread thrown on top of the salad.

Finely mince two fat garlic cloves. You do this by first smashing the cloves, then mincing them. Put them in the best, freshest olive oil you can afford (heated on low heat in a pan) for a couple of minutes, but be careful not to let them brown. Here’s where things get tricky. You can now lightly fry the bread in the garlic olive oil over low-moderate heat, but you have to watch it very carefully to make sure the garlic never gets past the barely-brown stage. This takes time and patience. An alternative method is to remove the garlic after it’s done its work perfuming the oil, and then fry the bread over higher heat without fear of burning the garlic. Or you can simply dip your toasted croutons in garlic oil (as noted above) and leave it at that.

Step 3: The Anchovy Question

Alex Cardini said each crouton should be spread with a schmear of anchovy paste. So does his granddaughter. Although she defaults to that big slice nonsense for croutons, and he is quoted as saying they should be smaller cubes or rectangles. However you like your bread-y salad accoutrements, we now agree they should have some anchovy paste on them. Or can we?

John Mariani, in his American Dictionary of Food and Drink says “no anchovies in the original” because Caesar Cardini disliked them (“argued against the inclusion of anchovies”), but that they “evolved” into the salad over time.

James Beard was such an anchovy aficionado he put 24(!) of them chopped into the dressing for a salad for six. Mexican food maven Diana Kennedy interviewed Alex Cardini Sr. (the brother who claimed he invented it) shortly before he died, and adds six of the little suckers to a garlic-anchovy paste to spread on the croutons.

These disputations have all the elements of a long-simmering family feud (akin to who was the Original Famous Ray?) to which you should brook no attempts to sway you to one camp or the other. Anchovies have indeed evolved into the recipe and are part of the salad today, no matter what history seems to argue.

When it comes to your salad, you will want to either do the schmear thing, or mash up a few of them in the bottom of the salad bowl, or do both. Some people like to strew a few on top of the salad. These persons are called enlightened, impeccable epicureans of the highest moral order.


Step #4 – Grate Expectations

Your cheese should be grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — the most expensive you can afford. You should grate it fresh on a box grater, on the smallest setting. (No microplaning! A Microplane cheese grater is great for some purposes — like grating cheese for melting —  but its wispy strands make cheese taste like air, denuding it of all pungency. If you microplane your cheese, you might as well go get a chicken Caesar at Applebee’s. Okay, not really, but there IS a taste difference, so get a good, old-fashioned box grater.)

Image(All dressed up and ready to dance on your tongue)

For variety and a little flair, you can also grate your cheese into shards or shingles to dress the top of the salad…because no one, ever, has complained that there was too much Parmesan cheese in a Caesar salad.

Step 5: Dressing Up


Limes not lemons. But lemons are fine. Great Caesars have pungency and citric bite. Do not skimp on the juice but don’t overdo it. Two juicy fruits should do for a salad for four, but have one in reserve just in case.

Mustard may be used at Caesar’s in Tijuana, but it’s another restaurant shortcut and a no-no . No recipe claiming to be the “original” lists it; it ruins the delicate balance of cheese, oil, acid and pepper, so don’t even think of it. Restaurants use it to ease the emulsion. The same ones who don’t like to tear their lettuce leaves.

Coddle two eggs. Some pugnacious purists claim they should be raw, but any home cook worth their salt knows a short, hot bath makes the yolks stickier, and stickier is what you seek.

Have a bottle of good old Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce at hand. A good healthy tablespoon-full adds immensely to the umami.

Be ready to grind on a butt-load of black pepper. And a few sprinkles of salt.

Step 6: Getting Your Salad Tossed

Image(Old Parm is the best Parm, but precious)

Now the fun starts. It’s easier than you think, but attention must be paid.

None of that bottom-of-the-bowl mixing shit here. What you seek is a layering of oil, eggs, juice, cheese and Worcestershire into an ethereal emulsion on the leaves themselves.

Making a big show of creating the dressing in the bottom of the bowl misses the whole point. Only through careful tossing of first the olive oil (to coat the leaves), then the egg (which thickens on the leaves with the oil), followed by the tang of citrus mixing with both of them, the Worcestershire adding a lagniappe of sweet-sour, topped off with top-shelf cheese and pepper sticking to the whole shebang.

It all comes together as you toss each individual ingredient upon the other. And toss you will for a full 30 seconds or so after each addition. The croutons can be thrown in before, during or after all the mixing starts, according to taste. When the cheese hits the thickly coated leaves, something magical takes place….and you can take a bow.

Once these techniques are mastered, never again will you be satisfied with a sub-par Caesar. For all but your salad, you will come to bury not to praise them. For, bear with me, this is an honorable Caesar; you all did love it once, not without cause, and my heart is in the coffin there with what restaurants have done to poor Caesar, and I must make my own till they come back to me.

Here is the recipe that started our Caesar salad quest 43 years ago. It’s a bit heavy on the garlic and the eggs (4 eggs for two heads of Romaine is absurd), and a bit light on the croutons, but the bones of a great one are in there: