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!

Lunching Las Vegas

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Yours truly is a world-class luncher. Dejeuner makes my day. I revel in my midday repasts like Andrew Cuomo hovering over a female cheek.

Lunch is when my appetite shines — senses are keenest, taste buds sharpest, and my bonhomie in its fullest flower. If breakfast is only good for thinking about lunch, then lunch does its best work by making you forget about dinner. And couldn’t we all do with a little less of the latter?

I didn’t always think this way. Back in the day I indulged in fabulous feasts lasting deep into the night. My first Michelin 3-star meal (at Le Grand Vefour in the early 90s) started before 8 pm and didn’t finish until after midnight. My early excursions to Paris, New York, ‘Frisco, Lyon, Rome and Milan were filled with 8 o’clock dinner reservations at nothing but the toniest supper spots.

But time passes and what once seemed exotic now feels tedious. My upcoming trips to Europe will concentrate on where to get the best midday meal, mostly with locals, not a bunch of tourists with more money than manners, whooping it up after dark.

But I digress.

We are here to discuss midday meal suggestions…but permit me another small digression before getting to those.

Lunch is an urban invention. Back in the day (way back in the day), the midday meal was the biggest – when you ate the most (after a hard morning’s labor), and giving you sustenance for an afternoon of grueling work.

The actual word “lunch” stands for a small something you can hold in one hand, kind of like half a sandwich, or David Chang’s brain.

As people became less agrarian, the middle meal kept moving to later in the day. By the nineteenth century, according to this historian, after the invention of electricity, all the proper English were “dining” after 5:00, so copycat Americans followed suit. Thus, with such hoity-toity pretensions (along with the rise of the industrial working classes) eating at noon moved from being our main fuel to being merely a pit stop in the daily rat race. Pity.

‘Tis sad because lunch – and by “lunch” we mean a proper, sit-down lunch – is the best time of the day to gather yourself, reflect on a morning’s hard work, and gird your loins for whatever action lies ahead. Not to be crude (okay, to be crude), but sex on a full stomach is as much fun as running the high hurdles with hemorrhoids.

Gluttony and fucking are as incompatible as chocolate and cheese. Exhibit A: Have you ever heard of anyone getting laid after a huge Thanksgiving dinner? (I REST MY CASE.)

I mean who even thinks about bumping uglies after taking down six jumbo shrimp, three dinner rolls, a bleu cheese wedge, a giant rib eye, potatoes au gratin, two bottles of wine and three desserts at a late supper? (PROVE ME WRONG!)

Stuffing yourself after dark is sheer lunacy. It also makes you fat. Something the good ole Romans understood two thousand years ago:

“[Romans]….believed it was healthier to eat only one meal a day…They were obsessed with digestion and eating more than one meal was considered a form of gluttony. This thinking impacted on the way people ate for a very long time.”Caroline Yeldham

Maybe that’s why I’m at Cipriani every Friday, chowing down on one simple, spectacular lunch after another:

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End of history lesson.

Las Vegas isn’t a lunch town. Few towns are these days. Bureaucrats eat at their desks, real estate types are driving around all day, lawyers are nailed to their computers, and casino execs do nothing but fret into their phones. With no white collar infrastructure to sustain a proper lunch environment, the pickins are slim when it comes to eating well at noon.

But do not despair mon ami, lunch is not a total loss. There are dining gems buried amongst the fast food zircons. You just need to know where to look.

And not to brag (okay to brag) but I probably eat better lunches than anyone in town.

So here they are, my highly vetted, very personal list of the best place for a midday meal in Las Vegas, with commentary, of course.

Crème de la Crème

Image(Friday vibes)

Note: Many, many places that used to open for lunch on the Strip are now closed. (This includes some former favorites like Spago, Jaleo, Delmonico, Bouchon, et al.) Good luck finding a decent sit-down midday meal in any big hotel…which is one of the reasons for this post.

Brera/Matteo’s – these sister spots have some of the best pizzas and pastas in town. Matteo’s downstairs at the Venetian is the quieter alternative, without music so loud you can’t hear yourself eat. Some of the pies upstairs at Brera will take your breath away, but fuggidabat any conversation until the stupid cruise ship music takes a break.

Brezza – for the time being, Nicole Brisson’s showplace is a 7 day lunch and dinner affair. Her extraordinary pastas need no introduction, and she even does an outstanding burger:

Image(BREZZA’s boffo burger)

(Update: As we predicted two weeks ago, BREZZA has now“postponed lunch” after serving it for less than a month. We knew it was too good to be true)

Cipriani – I eat here every week for a reason.

Capital Grille – the best chain steakhouse. Good steaks, great service, fabulous view. Some of the meat is standard issue, and the menu never changes, but it is huge and cozy at the same time (no mean feat that), and gals love it. Also good for business meals.

Milos – love it or hate it, but the Venetian has more decent midday meal options than any Strip hotel. It also now has our premier Greek seafood restaurant. Not quite the lunch bargain it used to be, but still a deal. Fabulous fish.

Marche Bacchus – still soothing after all these years. Still a wonder of wine and the best al fresco in the ‘burbs.

Wally’s – our newest fine wine/destination dining spot might have the best prices in town for expensive fermented grape juice. The store is a bargain hunter’s dream — if your idea of a bargain is getting a (normally) $400 bottle for two bills. Chef Eric L’Huillier is in charge of the kitchen, and is in imminent danger of turning this place into Las Vegas’s greatest French steakhouse.

Downtown’s Fabulous Food Faves

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Note: I work in downtown Las Vegas, and live two miles from my office, so you could say I eat out here All. The. Time. I eat out so much in DTLV I get bored with most of these — not because they’re not good, but because I’ve memorized the menus.

Carson Kitchen – still humming after seven years. Small menu; superb service.

DE Thai Kitchen – anything off the secret menu (which ain’t so secret) is great. So is the stuff not on the secret menu, like this incendiary green papaya salad:

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EAT. – get there early for one of Nat Young’s soul-satisfying breakfasts, serious sandwiches, and huevos motulenos.

8East – not so convenient unless you’re staying in the Circa hotel, but Dan Coughlin’s food is worth searching out.

Esther’s Kitchenwait for it…wait for it…this place is so crowded no one goes here anymore.

Letty’s – tacos, tacos y mas tacos!

Saginaw’s Deli – I love Paul Saginaw’s food, but there’s only so much deli my waistline can take.

7th & Carson – There is nothing surprising on the menu (except the stellar “Irish Breakfast”), but every time I eat here I walk away impressed by the execution.

Soulbelly BBQ – the No.1 barbecue in town and it isn’t even close. Excellent, out-of-the-ordinary sauces and one of our best burgers, too.

Chinatown

Image(Wai and Connie, still going strong at Big Wong)

Note: Chinatown (both the original on Spring Mountain Road and the new one popping up on South Rainbow) are their own thing. Most joints are open for lunch and dinner and everything in-between. Here are a few favorites, but there are dozens more where you can’t go wrong.

Big Wong – if bang for the buck was the only criteria, this Chinatown mainstay would be the best restaurant in town.

Chanko Shabu & Izakaya – swish swish your way to above average izakaya fare in a dark, clubby setting.

China MaMa – our best Chinese restaurant. That’s all there is to say.

Curry Zen – The Food Gal’s® fave, for good reason. Simple rice, Japanese curry, and a few gyoza are just the thing when you need to munch and run.

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District One – Let’s go get the oxtail soup (above), she says, and we willingly comply, even if we’re there for the Vietnamese carpaccio.

Lamaii – open for lunch, even on weekends. Top flight Thai. Incredible wine list priced to sell.

New Asian BBQ & Noodle – the second best dim sum in town (after Rainbow Kitchen).

Shanghai Taste – the best xiao long bao until someone proves to me otherwise:

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Shang Artisan Noodlenot actually in Chinatown, but that’s how we’re listing it. Extraordinary soups.

Rainbow Kitchen – giving China MaMa a run for its dumplings in the Chinese food supremacy department.

Rincon Buenos Aireswe forgot about RBA until we popped in for lunch a month ago. We had also forgotten about how piquant their chimichurri sauce is, and how the “lomo completo” sandwich (below) is one of the best meat and carbo loads ever:

Image(Complete with meat that’s tough to beat)

Weera Thai Kitchen – speaking of piquant: it’s tough to beat this en fuego menu of Thai street classics. Not for gringos and that’s the way we like it.

Outliers of Excellence

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Note: These are not exactly convenient unless you live near their ‘hood, but if you do, you should be ducking in to one for a midday bite on a regular basis.

Jamon JamonI don’t know what behooves Rafael Salines Catalá to stay open weekdays for lunch but I’m damn glad he does.

Image(Hot diggity Danish!)

Saga Pastry + Sandwich – is finally unshackled by Covid restrictions, and is hitting its stride with Scandinavian open-faced sandwiches and a Danish hot dog to beat the band. Those tiny shrimp alone are worth the trip to Henderson.

The Legends Oyster Bar & Grill – opened in the midst of the pandemic, in a weird-ass location with failure written all over it. Hopes are higher for this incarnation — the seafood is just too damn good. Classy/funky little build-out, too (sea above).

Win Kee Hong Kong Noodle & BBQ – Chinese ‘cue, soups and seats that make you think you’re in a Hong Kong alleyway. Criminally cheap, too.

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So why am I such a lunch lush these days? Some of it has to do with age and digestion — I find big evening meals simply don’t sit that well with my iron stomach, and can impinge on a good night’s sleep, even without wine.

Secondly, when I travel, I’ve found the great dining destinations of Europe to be friendlier, cheaper, and easier to access for the midday meal. Even a three hour repast at some destination dining palace leaves you plenty of time to walk it off and see the sights.

In Vegas, quite frankly, dinner on the Strip bores me. Have you tried parking there recently? MGM properties are the worst and Caesars isn’t far behind. Valet now costs $25+ at most hotels, and even on weeknights, getting in and out of the garages on the south Strip is a pain in the ass. (It was a pain in the ass even in the best of times, but at least it was free.)

Since 1998, I probably haven’t gone 4 weeks without stopping into the Bellagio. Now, I haven’t been in 6 months and still don’t see any reason to return.  What’s the point? To watch drunk day-clubbers stagger around?

The only reason to hit Caesars is Restaurant Guy Savoy. (Who exactly gets a boner over Bobby Flay doing Italian these days? No gastronome I know.) The shitshow that is Mandalay Bay? Are you kidding me? All the good places in these former dining destinations are either closed, on the rocks, or open for dinner, “Thurs-Sun 5 pm-10 pm.” Yeesh.

There’s a reason you find me these days hanging out at the Venetian/Palazzo, Wynn/Encore, and Resorts World and those reasons are: welcoming environment(s), ease of access, and most of all, good food…available at noon.

See you at lunch.

Image(See what you’re missing by eating at your desk?)

The Final List – 2020

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A man cannot be too serious about what he eats. – Confucius

I can’t stand people who aren’t serious about their meals. – Oscar Wilde

We’ve spent the past week quizzing friends (many of whom we’ve dined with over the past year) about how many restaurants they thought we had been to during the pandemic. Some guessed as few as 5; most hovered in the 20-30 range; while a few put the number at around 50.

It was amusing to point out to them how wrong they were.

Care to guess?

Consider this before you do: A popular notion now holds that you have to do something 10,000 times before you get really good at it — be it hitting a baseball, knitting, or playing chess. When it comes to eating out, I eclipsed that number twenty years ago. Now, it’s too many to count. Even in an off year, I accumulated restaurants like some people do bad habits.

Image(Tempura lunch at Kaiseki Yuzu)

Yes, even in this down year (the understatement of the century), the number — according to my records (receipts, social media postings and such) — was almost 100 (96 to be precise), and I’m probably missing a few.

Many of them were visited more than once. Cipriani I probably went to 25 times; Esther’s Kitchen a dozen; Guy Savoy twice; and Kaiseki Yuzu at least 5. We finally got back to an old Mexican friend in the northeast (Los Molecajetes), discovered a great wine program in an old haunt (Grape Vine), and gained new-found respect for some superior Italian seafood (Costa di Mare).

We have mourned the death of our great frog ponds (Robuchon, Gagnaire), swelled with pride at the resilience of Chinatown, and marveled at the resurgence of downtown.

Through it all we’ve been battling the soul-crushing weight of America’s obsession with Covid. With that obsession has come wave after wave of regulations, each a cruel blow to small business owners, none more ravaged than the hospitality industry.

The irony of Covid hitting right when America’s participation in eating out was at an all time high is not lost on us — a “market correction” which was neither inevitable nor necessary. Restaurant-going was not a stock market/real estate bubble. It was an enjoyable human activity from which everyone profited.

And then we killed it, or at least let it be killed — ruining the lives of many in service of the few.

But the Curtas household couldn’t/wouldn’t let groupthink take over our lives. We certainly didn’t let it prevent us from supporting the restaurants of Las Vegas which we hold so dear.

I don’t bother with mediocrity anymore. I’ll leave exploration of the obscure to the intrepid, and of the absurd to Instagram influencers. What goes into my pie hole is the best food Las Vegas has to offer. So it has been for thirty years, and so it was over the past 12 months.

As usual, all places are randomly listed and come highly recommended unless otherwise noted. Our restaurant bills this year would choke a horse, but was money well spent and I’m proud to have spent it. You should consider parting with some of yours at one of these as soon as possible:

Image(Lobster mac ‘n cheese at Barry’s)

THE LIST 2020

  1. Barry’s Downtown Prime – 2 visits down, 1 to go before we take the measure of this new entry in Vegas’s high-end sweepsteaks.
  2. Yui Edomae Sushi – still gets our nod over Kabuto by the thickness of a piece of gari.
  3. Kaiseki Yuzu – a little slice of Tokyo for those who appreciate the real deal.
  4. Letty’s – best tacos downtown. Don’t even think about arguing with me about this.
  5. Good Pie – new digs are impressive…now all they need is the right to use them.
  6. The Black Sheep – another joint we don’t get to enough…because there’s only one of us to go around.
  7. Kabuto – exquisite sushi. Some prefer it to Yui; we think it’s a toss-up.
  8. 7th & Carson – haven’t been in a while but thankful for them feeding us for months during the shutdown.
  9. Carson Kitchen – new menu = renewed vigor for a downtown pioneer.Image(Esther’s is re-intenting itself)
  10. Esther’s Kitchen – we go for the pasta, head for a tent (above), and stay for the wine.
  11. Grape Vine – improved food – better than it was under the old ownership (Grape Street) – the wine program worth a trip all by itself.
  12. PublicUs – saved our bacon during the darkest days of the Covid shutdown.
  13. Los Molecajetes – so good, so far from where most gringos prefer to tread.Image(Chip chip hooray! For Sin Fronteras salsas!)
  14. Sin Fronteras Tacos – northwest Mexican worth a trip from any part of town.
  15. Elia Authentic Greek Taverna – new digs (and an expanded menu) have us more excited than Zorba at a lamb roast.Pin en Other Oldish Films
  16. Yummy Rice – The Food Gal’s® says the unagi rice bowl here is eely, eely good.
  17. Pop Up Pizza – still fave; still under-appreciated.Image(“Blueberries” at Guy Savoy)
  18. Restaurant Guy Savoy – I go here as often as my wallet and waistline will let me.
  19. Rao’s – surprisingly delicious no matter how depressing the Strip gets.
  20. Elio – remarkable, inventive, elevated Mexican, but will it make it?

  21. Ferraro’s – closed until February at the earliest (sigh).Image(Prosciutto & figs at Osteria Fiorella)
  22. Osteria Fiorella – started as a pop-up, now firmly ensconced at Red Rock; a hit from day one.
  23. Saga Pastry + Sandwich – the only thing wrong with this place is it’s too far from my house.Image(Pithivier at Partage)
  24. Partage – only went once this year and it was spectacular.
  25. Jaleo – no one does Spain better than a man named José.
  26. Capital Grille – our old reliable; also our best chain steakhouse.
  27. Pizzeria Monzu – there ought to be a line out the door for this food.Image(Dat sum dim sum)
  28. New Asian BBQ – best dim sum on Spring Mountain Road.
  29. Aloha Specialties – I like this place for a white-on-white bite (like Kahlua pig with rice and mac); The Food Gal® loathes it.
  30. Costa di Mare – so good, still stunningly beautiful. The pastas are as great as the fish, which is really saying something.
  31. Weera Thai Kitchen – one of many superb Thai restaurants in Vegas now. We’re really spoiled when it comes to our Asian alimentation. Only LA sports a better array. Image
  32. Toridokoro Raku – stunningly good chicken parts, as only the Japanese can do them.
  33. Raku – Japanese food doesn’t get any better, anywhere but Japan.
  34. Hiroyoshi – it’s so small that capacity restrictions are laughable. Beautiful, finely-wrought Japanese food, less expensive than the sushi heavyweights on Spring Mountain Road.
  35. Bazaar Meat – haven’t been in a while; always drop a bundle when I do.
  36. 8oz Korean Steakhouse – for the Korean steak lover in you. The best of the bunch.
  37. Lamaii – holding on, like a lot of its brethren. Fabulous wine list; inflammatory Thai.
  38. The Real Crepe – galettes, crepes, and a slice of Brittany on the cusp of Summerlin.
  39. La Maison de Maggie – essential when you need a French fix.
  40. Delices Gourmands – they do the most with the yeast here. Bread so fine it will have you Loave-ing Las Vegas.
  41. Rosallie Cafe – as crumby as they come when it comes to baking your day. Don’t get me tarted.
  42. Cafe Breizh – always gets a rise out of us, especially when we’re leaven beyond our means. With Pierre Gatel’s creations, we’re never bun and done. He’s always up to his baguette of tricks, and it’s usually a give and cake proposition, guaranteed to have us leaving in a glaze of glory. Think of it as cream and punishment.
  43. Japaneiro – Kevin Chong was our first post-shutdown dinner. Still the best steak in the ‘burbs.
  44. Khoury’s Mediterranean – every time we eat here I kick myself for not eating here more often.
  45. Weiss Restaurant Deli – good, but not as good as….
  46. Saginaw’s – the best deli sandwiches in town, which, sadly, isn’t saying much…about our town, not the sandwiches.Image
  47. Cipriani – I’ll see you there for lunch this Friday…and almost every Friday.
  48. Ocha Thai – downtown’s most reliable Thai.
  49. DE Thai – downtown’s most convenient Thai, now with a second location!
  50. China Mama – noodles, dumplings, cumin lamb and crispy beef to die for.
  51. Edo Tapas & Wine – now open every weeknight and killing it.
  52. Ohlala French Bistro – if it were in my ‘hood, I’d be here once a week.
  53. Rooster Boy Cafe – ditto.
  54. CUT by Wolfgang Puck –  1-2 with Bazaar Meat when it comes to beef emporium hegemony.
  55. ‘e’ by José Andrés – amazingly, re-opened this fall and is still a tough ticket.Image(2020 drove us to drink…a lot)
  56. Delmonico Steakhouse – now a senior sirloin statesman, still a superb one.
  57. Matteo’s Ristorante – superb pasta, perhaps the best on the Strip. Right now I can’t think of any better.
  58. Yum CHA – our go-to for dim sum in the southwest.
  59. Soyo Korean Restaurant – we go with our Korean friends so they can explain everything to us — one umami bomb after another.
  60. Majordomo Steakhouse – Vegas’s most interesting steakhouse; see, I said something nice about David Chang.
  61. Estiatorio Milos – closed at Cosmo, set to re-open in February in the Venetian. We wish them luck. They’ll need it.Image(Kinnara Thai)
  62. Serrano’s Mexican – nice neighborhood standby.
  63. Marché Bacchus – still the most romantic spot in town. Rosé all day? Better off red? Experiencing growing champagnes? Drawing a blanc? Wine not dine here?
  64. New York Bagel N Bakery – best bagels in town.
  65. Every Grain Sheridan Su can still score.
  66. La Strega – too far from Chez Curtas but mighty tasty.
  67. Trés Cazuelas – difficult location, great food.
  68. Players Locker by Wolfgang Puck – an under-the-radar gem.
  69. Locale – also too far from civilization, but we wish them luck.
  70. Kinnara Thai – eye-popping Thai in an unlikely location.Image(Roll with it)
  71. Cafe Mong – I didn’t think I’d love a rolled crepe (above). Boy how wrong I was.
  72. Bajamar Fish Tacos – good tacos but the bums at the front door drove us away, for good.
  73. Sin City Smokers – love their pulled pork…and the ribs.
  74. Big B’s Texas BBQ – love their brisket…and the sides
  75. The Goodwich – under new ownership. Not a good sign, especially in this climate.
  76. L&L Hawaiian BBQ – strictly for the loco moco lover in you.
  77. Magal Korean BBQ – open for lunch, so we go for the bibimbap at lunch. 
  78. 8East – remarkable Asian fusion, tucked in an obscure corner of an empty hotel (for now).
  79. Victory Burger – big burgers, good beef, slightly overdone.Image(A happy Chutima clan means a well-fed Las Vegas)
  80. Lotus of Siam – both locations now reopened (see smiling Chutimas above)!
  81. Spago – not the superstar it once was, but still in the game.
  82. ShangHai Taste – superb dumplings and other things to numb your tongue.
  83. Pho So 1 – our old Vietnamese reliable.
  84. Shang Artisan Noodle – with Covid restrictions, can only seat a comically small # of people. Image
  85. Oscar’s Steakhouse – sometime this year, we’ll do an Oscar’s v. Barry’s downtown throwdown. You’ll be able to read about it here.
  86. Oodle Noodle – Udon’t need to look any further for your wheat starch noodle fix.
  87. Kung Fu Thai & Chinese – I had a Covid fever dream that when every other restaurant in Las Vegas has closed, Kung Fu (since 1973) will still be slinging yen ta fo and cashew chicken to its loyal customers. God bless them, every one.
  88.  Mg Patisserie – Crust in case, dough yourself a favor, and don’t be a hothouse flour. You’ll only make batters worse by not rolling in here when you knead to.
  89. Yu-Or-Mi Sushi – What’s going on in the Arts District right now is like a little foodie X-mas present for all of Las Vegas: three new restaurants, all within a stone’s throw of each other, have opened in the last three weeks. This gorgeous little bento box is the hidden gem of the bunch.

Image(Oysters w/ ponzu and chives)

Also Visited This Year but Closed for Good

Cucina by Wolfgang Puck

Santos Guisdados Tacos

Mordeo Wine Bar

Flock & Fowl

Hall of Shame

Eiffel Tower – went here on my birthday. Two bites in I regretted it. Never again, even if it reopens.

Mon Ami Gabi – when management will treat yours truly as a pigeon to be plucked, you know they have no shame. “Keep your hand on your wallet,” as my dad used to say. You have been warned.

Final one to visit before the end of 2020…

97. Main Street Provisions – looking forward to trying it as soon as their shakedown cruise ends.

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Someone recently asked me why I go to so many restaurants. I answered by saying I’ve become the (un)official, upaid publicist for about 60 of them.

It is a role I will gladly embrace until we retire all this restricted dining nonsense…and I can get back to the role I’m best know for: being a lovable curmudgeon.

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