I have evolved.
I am no longer the avid food lover that I was in 1977 when I started consuming Julia Child and James Beard cookbooks wholesale.
I am not the insatiable gourmand I was from 1981-1990 when I ate my way through Southern California, Chicago, and New York City at every opportunity.
And no longer am I the intrepid gastronome of 1994-2012, when I considered it my sacred duty to dutifully report on everything and anything happening in the Las Vegas food and restaurant scene.
Things have changed and I have changed.
The Las Vegas Strip is no longer the revolutionary force is was from 1995-2010 — when it single-handedly invented the idea of the modern day, globe-trotting “celebrity chef” by giving burgeoning brands like Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Jean-George Vongerichten, Joël Robuchon and Michael Mina a platform to rake in mountains of cash while expanding their businesses.
I am no longer fascinated by every new opening, nor am I enthralled (as I used to be) by whatever menu delights were being trotted out by Hubert Keller, Scott Conant or Mario Batali.
And as much as I love my frogs and my frog ponds, the seasonal changes at Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, Restaurant Guy Savoy, Joël Robuchon and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon are met with more of a yawn these days than a hip-hip-hooray.
(These days, I pop in about once a year just to re-affirm what I already know: that our top flight French remain some of the finest restaurants in the world.)
Restaurants, I’ve come to conclude, are a lot like lovers. Remember the tingle of excitement that always precedes your first time with someone? The sense of exploration? The desire to consume them wholesale? It’s that anticipation and the unknown that makes them so fascinating. You’re anxious; they’re anxious; everyone’s anxious and no one knows what to expect. That’s why it’s so much fucking fun!
Or can be. New sex with someone can also be a disaster…especially when one side doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain. (For those in need of a primer on the subject, there are only two things you need to have great sex with someone: gratitude and enthusiasm.)
Or maybe you just lose interest much too quickly, or the whole thing was a gigantic let down. That happens a lot too.
The point is, going to a new restaurant, like getting newly naked with someone, is exciting because of the unknown. Once you become familiar with each other, you can still enjoy yourselves, but you do so in a deeper, more relaxed sort of way. And no matter how good you are at the process (and how much you love each other), sometimes, one of you can get bored.
Ladies and gentlemen, I think I’m tired of fucking the restaurants of Las Vegas.
That doesn’t mean I don’t love them. But it does mean I don’t get a woody at the thought of diving deep (or sticking my tongue) into the damp, juicy folds of their flesh anymore.
Even worse, it seems I’ve become immune to foreplay.
Flash your cleavage at me (in the form of fancy decor as décolletage) and nothing happens. Tongue my ear and you’ll get a ho-hum.
Give me a hummer of a hamburger and I’m hard-pressed to press the flesh.
Cheap and easy (comps/free food) doesn’t work on me anymore either (as if they ever did), and neither does mysterious and exclusive. (There may be some nimrods out there who are impressed by what fellow nimrods Bourdain and Chang have to say, but yours truly got over listening to the boring drivel of inarticulate chefs many years ago. And when I see a press release trumpeting some “exclusive” event with Chef Morimoto, I just scoff.)
Drugs don’t work either. Ply me with grower champagne or grand cru Burgundy and Mr. Happy remains as limp as a wet biscuit. Titillate my taste buds with truffles and my mood remains tepid.
I used to think of foie gras as the fellatio of fine food — something it would be impossible to forgo. Now I wave it off like a weary sultan dismissing the nubile delights of his harem.
Could anything be more concupiscent than caviar? One would think. But after consuming copious amounts of it, I have become immune to its charms.
Szechuan I used to consider salaciously salubrious; now I think of it as so-so.
Korean used to captivate; dim sum used to delight; now I deign them both barely desirable.
20,000 restaurant meals over 40 years in 16 different countries will do that to you.
Is there a cure?
Yes and no.
Some things there is no going back to.
The whole “celebrity chef” thing is so played-out that I’m callous to whatever they’re selling. It would be hard for me to ever getting excited again about someone’s 38th restaurant, or whatever concept Caesars Palace wants to slap Gordon Ramsay’s name on. The Giadas and Fieris of the world are exploiting their brand, and that’s it. They barely give a shit about the food, and their credulous public barely does either. Like a low-rent stripper shilling for a lap dance, the product doesn’t have to be great, it simply has to be is good enough to separate you from your cash.
It’s sad for me in a way, because I remember the excitement of 1998-2009, when so many “name” chefs opened their stores here and turned our humble burg from The Town That Taste Forgot into a world-class dining destination. But those days are long gone, and now our legacy has devolved into being the launching pad (or just another venue) for corporate brands (hello Slanted Door!), not the incubator of big deal dining.
Soooo, as with middle-aged sex, I’m going to pick my spots. With no longer the interest nor the energy for marathon orgies of eating. At this point, I won’t be looking for comfort every night of the week. Instead, I’ll be looking for meaningful experiences with worthwhile consorts, not the promiscuous joys of conquest through conspicuous consumption.
Proving what a stud you are is a young man’s game. The rampant devouring of the pleasures of the flesh is a lot of fun when you have the time, the curiosity and the energy.
Like all young men, quantity used to trump quality, which is okay when you’re 20, or 30, or 40. Then, it’s all about ego and belt-notching. What’s important in your youth is whether you scored, whether you can say you’ve been there. (When I see Instagrammers clamoring to be the first to post about whatever shiny new object is plated before them, I see myself twenty years ago.) But those delights are ephemeral, fleeting, and ultimately self-defeating. Now, as an experienced epicure I know just what I’m looking for, and it takes a lot more than a pretty face and a pair of tits to keep me interested.
What you seek as an older man — in sex and food — is substance and style. Combine them both and you have my attention.
Show me some real passion, some creativity, and some actual interest, and I’m yours for life.