Of Cabbages and Kings…and Pizzas and Pia Zadora

The Wisdom In Carroll's Nonsensical Poem, The Walrus And The Carpenter – The Wisdom Daily

‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,

‘To talk of many things:

Of shoes – and ships – and sealing wax –

Of cabbages and kings

And why the sea is boiling hot –

And whether pigs have wings.’

The Walrus and the Carpenter, Lewis Carroll

Image(And all the little oysters stood, and waited in a row)

Oyster season is upon us. The days in Vegas aren’t quite so hot; and the nights are even a bit cool. Spirits brighten, paces quicken, appetites increase, and Las Vegans come out of their shells, as do bivalves…inasmuch as the latter involves being on the end of an oyster fork.

Summers you see, are for hibernating, both for certain shellfish, and people accustomed to enduring 108 degree heat for weeks on end. Oysters mate in the summer (and get watery and flabby in the process), while residents of the High Mojave do the same, at least as it involves staying in our air conditioned shells, or in a swimming pool, as much as possible.

Every year, almost like clockwork, we get hungrier on September 15th. Labor Day may be the unofficial end of Summer, but for us, the weather always seems to break about two weeks later. Sure, the hot days don’t disappear entirely until mid-October, but as soon as we feel a nip of cool in the morning, we start celebrating. And by celebrating we mean going out to eat like a starving man attacking a banquet.

Through happenstance as much as planning, this year we found ourselves overwhelmed by Italian, suffused with seafood, and awash in oysters. Below are some impressions of our more noteworthy meals…and by “noteworthy” I mean ones we either loved or hated.

Image(Never eat ‘ersters in any month without a paycheck in it)

Like the Walrus and the Carpenter, we eagerly await the arrival of plump, firm ‘ersters from both coasts, and the best and freshest collection in town can usually be found at the Water Grill. Unlike the Walrus, we feel little guilt in luring a couple of dozen of these eager little creatures into our greedy maw. Instead of poetry and persuasion, we use cash…in this case around $42/dozen. Stick with West Coast is our usual mantra: they have traveled less and have more of the mineral-rich salinity we look for. The WG may be part of a chain, but it’s a chain restaurant with sole…that knows it plaice, and hasn’t floundered since landing on the L.A. scene 30 years ago.

After gorging ourselves on Fanny Bays and Indigos, we next found ourselves inundated with Italians. (In case you haven’t noticed, Vegas is lousy with Italians these days.)

An old friend met us at Piero’s for a birthday party (and we stayed for a bite); another epicurean acquaintance lured us back to Lago; everyone said Amalfi was amazing, so we had to see for ourselves. Then RPM opened for lunch, and of course we had to go. In between all these, we also squeezed in multiple lunches at Cipriani, a lunch at Esther’s Kitchen, and dinners at Milano and Rosa Ristorante. Between the eight of them, we noshed on enough noodles to numb a Neapolitan.

But you do not come here to hear about our digestion, dear readers, you come for the piquancy of our opinions. So let us get straight to the nitty Pecorino.

SHIPWRECK

Image(All show no dough)

Lago has always suffered from unfortunate nautical design that puts one in mind of a cruise ship. Which is fine if you like dining with people whose idea of culinary adventure is a carving station with a salad bar. There is truth in advertising, though, because the food here lives down to the decor.

The cheesy design also commits the sin of raising expectations. “You’d think with a contraption that impressive, they’d turn out something less crappy,” one of our companions  observed after being confronted with a pizza oven that had to cost more than a Ferrari, and is the size of a walk-in closet (above). Another dining companion (let’s call him the Restaurant Pro) said: “If they were serving this stuff in a neighborhood Eye-talian joint, you could forgive it.” What he referred to was a meal of seven different items, each more sloppy and less worth it than the first

What is unforgivable is a mini “pizzette” tasting as if the Pillsbury Dough Boy poured a thimble of so-so sauce on a saltine:

Image(Fuggidabadit)

….followed by gloppy, overpriced pasta, pedestrian, puny panzanella (bread salad), and pathetic chicken parm (see below) — the whole tourist-trapping shebang aimed at separating the credulous from their cash.

Lest you forget, Lago is located smack dab in the center of the Bellagio — a hotel which once had the greatest assortment of restaurants in Las Vegas, and maybe the world. It replaced Circo, a gastronomic gem of design, wine, solicitous service and Tuscan excellence. All Lago is servicing is the bottom line.

Sirio Maccioni must be rolling over in his grave.

Image(Somewhere, Vital Vegas is salivating)

If you’re interested (and you shouldn’t be), lunch for five, with tip and a single, modest bottle, set us back a cool $411. This included seven tubes of rigatoni for $32 which in quantity and taste would’ve been a perfect meal for a three-year old.

LET’S GO FISH

Image

Amalfi by Bobby Flay was a pleasant surprise, and RPM blew us away so much we can’t wait to return for dinner. Both feature by-the-numbers fare, with nothing to scare, tweaked here and there to give the place some flair.

Poetry GIFs | Tenor

The whole point of Amalfi is pesce, and it takes its template from Milos by pricing fish by the pound and letting you choose it from a display at the back of the restaurant:

Image(Bobby’s wet dream)

As with Milos, the fish is impeccably fresh and eyebrow raising-ly expensive (although we noticed a couple of species priced a buck or two/lb. less than at Milos). Appetizers toggled between ordinary (tuna tartare) to interesting (lemon-oregano prawns) to impressive (soft scrambled eggs with bottarga and tomato toast). Pastas were surprisingly astonishing, with a spaghetti limone that was loaded with Dungeness crab, and pasta “rags” (below) that showed spice, brightness, and restraint.

Image(From rags to richness)

These pastas prey among the pecunious, though, as they’re priced from $28-$38.

As splendid as the food was, the crowd was even more inspiring, because 1) there was one (it was packed on a hot, Tuesday night); and 2) everyone looked their best, rather than the cargo shortswearing/hat-backwards/flip-flopping/t-shirt sporting/mouthbreathers who usually infest this hotel in summer.

Image(Missing: wife-beaters and Bud Lite)

 

Image(“This guy Curtas says we should get the turbot…”)

If Bobby Flay can motivate people to dress for dinner (and by “dress for dinner” we mean put on a collared shirt), maybe there’s hope for humanity yet.

ENDLESS PASTABILITIES

Image(Classic cheese and pepper)

RPM is the latest Italian upgrade on the Strip, and like its competition, it plows no new ground, preferring to concentrate on quality cooking over cartwheels. One lunch for two people does not a good sample size make, but we found our charred pepperoni pizzette to be almost perfect — a slightly spongy charred crust supporting a thick layer of strong, melted cheese and good sausages:

Image(Cheesy does it)

Look closely (above) and you’ll see dough, properly proofed and baked with just the right amount of a tomato sauce  — smothered in an amalgam of nutty, serious cheese — so vibrant and umami-rich it practically explodes in your mouth. Finding a better mini-pizza in Vegas will not be easy. The cacio e pepe (above) and carpaccio were also first rate, as was the torta meringata, which roughly translates as “baked Alaska.”

Image(Don’t think Alaska the Food Gal to share)

I’d rate the pastas at RPM (carbonara, pappardelle, pomodoro...) as a little more basic than the seafood-forward ones at Amalfi (scialatielli, squid ink fettucine, gnocchi, agnolotti, and the like), as well as being slightly lower in price ($17-$42). Both show real commitment to careful cooking of Italian classics, which is a lot rarer than you’d think in this genre — it being painfully easy to throw any slop on a noodle and have Americans beat a path to your door.

A final bonus: RPM may have the best Italian wine list of any place in town that isn’t named Ferraro’s. Organized by region, it is full of interesting, off-beat bottles at acceptable markups. Only time will tell if they stick with such an ambitious wine program — Vegas is littered with the remains of interesting lists which regress to the mean once the original hoopla dies down, and the incessant demands of satisfying the less adventuresome grabs the bottom line.

Until that happens, you’ll find us scouring it for Sagrantino, Aglianico, Primitivo and all sorts of bottles you won’t find elsewhere:

TIME FOR YOUR PIA ZADORA BREAK…

Pia Zadora Photos (4 of 9) | Last.fm(Pia’s not Fonda Jane )

Why Pia, you ask?

Because Pia Zadora, like Piero’s is a pleasant reminder of days gone by — when men were men, women had big hair, and Vegas wasn’t run by a bunch of bean counters. A time when a young man could make his way in Las Vegas by sheer chutzpah, shameless womanizing, and a tolerance for substance abuse that would make Keith Richards blush.

Or so I’ve heard.

For the uninitiated, Piero’s is a Las Vegas institution I have loved to hate since 1985. Perhaps I am softening in my old age, or maybe the time has come for a reassessment, or maybe I was wearing rosé colored glasses on the night we dined. Whatever it was, it has to be on me, since the restaurant hasn’t changed a thing about itself in decades.

You still valet your car in the port cochere; enter a short hallway leading to the hostess stand; admire the giant chimps adorning the walls; and then find one of two large bars which flank a warren of dining rooms (some cozy, some huge), which are packed with a crowd who thinks nothing of slugging down a few martinis with their marinara.

Film Scene: Mad Max and Pia Zadora bring Savannah film magic(Cheers to you, Pia!)

The pint-sized chanteuse now entertains the conventioneers at “Pia’s Place” inside Piero’s on weekends, and as if on cue, we bumped into her on our way in. She’s starting to shrivel at bit (like all of us), but it’s nothing that muted lighting, pancake makeup, and an appreciative crowd can’t fix. Since sunlight and Piero’s are strangers, everyone can watch her show, and tuck into their (decent) osso buco, and (very good) linguine with clams with the confidence they look twenty years younger in these subdued rooms.

I”m not saying this place is a time warp, but if Dan Tanna walked in sporting poly-quad, triple knit bell bottoms and ordered a Harvey Wallbanger, no one would bat an eye.

Pia’s still belting them out like it’s 1982. Like all of us, she is fighting the ravages of time they only way she knows how: by sticking with what works. Piero’s works, both as a memory and institution. The food won’t win any awards but there’s plenty of it and it fits its clientele like a Tommy Bahama trunk show. The drinks are huge (and well-made) and the servers are always on it like a bonnet. When it and Pia depart this mortal vale, Las Vegas will be a poorer place.

DEEP POCKET DIVING

Image

Speaking of being poorer for it, if deep sea diving (into your wallet), is how you cast about, then snorkel on down to Estiatorio Milos, where dropping 400 sand dollars on a 5 lb. fagri (red porgy, below) is a delicious way to get soaked.

Image(Porgy is the best)

On the plus side, this beauty easily feeds six. But do the math: any way you sashimi it, you’re still dropping a lotta clams. Milos does a wonderful job of casting for (and landing) those angling for trophy-sized seafood, as well as others bobbing for much smaller fry. The latter usually can be found taking the bait at lunch — where the $30 special is still a steal, which allows you to drink like a….to drink a lot.

Image(Gone fishing…at Milos)

Take us home, Lewis:

“O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter,
      You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
      But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
      They’d eaten every one.”

 

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Eating is like sex: sometimes you do it as a form of art, and sometimes you do it to satisfy an urge. – Me

It’s time I shared a little secret with you — one I usually keep to myself: As open-minded as I try to remain when eating out, I do play favorites. Sometimes I go out with a purpose in mind, other times it is simply to obtain tried and true pleasure from an old, comfortable companion — a place that consistently brings me to a satisfying finish, once in a while, without too much thought.

You know, kinda like marriage.

Pin on Words

Put another way: when it’s time to unwind and dine on my own dime, rather than opine or repine about where I’ve reclined…. sometimes I’m supine about places most fine, which you and I know have already shined.

Sure, I trumpet the merits of everything from sushi bars to pasta joints all over town, and, at the drop of a hangar I’ll rattle off my top ten steakhouses, or five favorite Frenchies…but truth be told, when the time comes for the Food Gal and I to grab a quick bite, there’s usually only a few (okay, more like a few dozen) places on our agenda.

And by “on our agenda” I mean places we rely upon, but still manage to argue about.

Image

Take any random week night or Sunday afternoon. If you’re hanging around our kitchen counter, at the palatial Curtas manse, you might overhear a conversation that goes something like this:

The Food Gal®: “I’m hungry.”

The World’s Greatest Restaurant Critic®, i.e., me: “What are you in the mood for? Uh….(I then proceed to call a grammar foul on myself) I meant: for what are you in the mood, my sweet?”

Her: “I dunno, what do you want”?

Me: “I thought you said you were hungry. What would you like?”

Her: “Anything. I’m starving.”

Me: (realizing we’re getting nowhere) “Okay, how about brisket and  ribs?”

Her: “No, they’re too smoky.”

“Korean?”

“Too garlicky.”

“Mexican?”

“Too much cilantro.”

“Pasta?”

“Too filling.”

“Sushi?”

“Not filling enough”

“Indian?”

“It’s too hot for Indian.”

“How about we hit up that Bahamian-Nigerian-Sicilian pirogi truck that just opened? I hear its breadfruit-jackfruit-eggfruit empanadas are the bomb!”

“Nah, it’s not cold enough yet.”

And so it goes.

Are we the only couple who goes through this? Doubtful. At this point in my life I’m convinced EVERY couple on earth goes through this (or some version of this) at least once a week.

At the grandiose Curtas digs:

….it’s a daily conversation. I kid you not.

But we have our favorites — old reliables we default to whenever we can’t find inspiration in the new, or are desperate for a tried and true definitive chew.

So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite things, restaurant-wise:

BREAKFAST

Image(Off-menu “Bodega” at Vesta)

We’re not big on breakfast at our opulent marital abode.…..even though The Food Gal®, like most women, seems to have this odd predilection for wanting to eat something in the morning.

Like every morning.

In fact, she takes this unreasonable position to extremes, often insisting that something go into her stomach on a regular basis, morning, noon and night. Yours truly, being (like most men), less emotional and more level-headed, encourages her to resist mightily these spasms of silliness. “Breakfast is good for only one thing: thinking about lunch,” we tell her, and once in a while, she listens. Why waste calories on carbo-bombs and caffeine when delectable full meals beckon, only a few hours hence?

Being of sound mind, she usually bows to this impeccable reasoning and concedes to a morning ritual of coffee at either Bungalow Coffee Co. or Vesta, followed by a discussion of where to have lunch. When she wins the argument, here’s where we end up:

Cafe Breizh (for the best French pastries…)

Burgundy Cafe & Bakery  (for the best French pastries + great sandwiches + feeling like you’re sitting in Paris – the city, not our ersatz version)

Life’s A Bagel (for the best Bagel in Vegas)

Saginaw’s Deli (for Vegas’s best deli only tourists ever go to….)

La Vecindad (for chilaquiles – belowwhich have been scientifically proven to be the best Mexican breakfast on earth):

Image

7th & Carson (for the Full Irish – one Irish breakfast usually being more than enough for two)

PublicUs (a culinary/coffee gem on East Fremont – an incredible success in an unlikely location)

Vesta Coffee (exclusively for its “Bodega Sandwich” – see above – which is all you need to start your day, along with one of their high-octane brews)

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

LUNCH

Image

She works out by the airport; he works downtown at City Hall. Somehow, they make it work — rendezvous-ing for a midday meal several times a week. He will tell you that, after four decades of intense research, three failed marriages, two nervous breakdowns and thousands of $$$ in alimony, the secret to a happy marriage is having lunch with your spouse at least every other day. Historical records have shown that Mesopotamian sociologists discovered this around the year 3652 B.C..

Related factoid: Einstein’s fourteenth theory of infidelity relativity has firmly established that regularly having lunch with someone else’s spouse leads to the opposite effect.

True Dat GIF - True Dat October - Discover & Share GIFs

I’m a downtown guy so downtown is where we mainly stay….when we’re not heading to Chinatown…which we do at least twice a week. We don’t think about going to the Strip much anymore, because, with a few exceptions, it’s become one giant tourist trap. F**k the Strip (most of it, anyway) with a margarita guitar.

Hit The Woah GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

Enough negativity. Here’s where you’ll find us most middays partaking of a palate-pleasing repast:

Esther’s Kitchen:

Image(You knead to know, Esther’s spreads don’t loaf around.)

Nevada Brew Works (strictly for the boffo burgers)

Soulbelly BBQ (Best. BBQ. In. Vegas.)

Letty’s on Main  (Get the chicharrones and quesotacos and thank me later.)

Cipriani:

Image(4 words: carb-o-nar-a)

DE Thai Kitchen  (for incendiary delights in a teeny tiny space)

ShangHai Taste (worth the wait for superior xiao long bao)

Xiao Long Dumplings (right across the street from ShangHai, bigger, more varied menu)

Pho So 1 (our Vietnamese mainstay)

Matteo’s  (Italian that’s too good for tourists):

Image(Seppia – baby calamari a la plancha at Matteo’s)

Estiatorio Milos (still the best lunch value on the Strip)

New Asian BBQ (Super busy translates into super-fresh dim sum)

Ramen Hashi (for the shoyu ramen lover in you):

Image

Rincon Buenos Aires (beef glorious beef, Argentine-style)

Rainbow Kitchen (Every Chinese’s favorite it seems, especially on weekends):

Image

Let us finish lunch with some faithful Chinatown friends who never fail us:

District One

Yummy Rice

Big Wong

Curry Zen

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

DINNER

Image(Beef, it’s what’s for dinner)

Here’s where things get tricky. The Las Vegas of 2022 has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to dining out. There are dozens of restaurants we like/love as much (or more) as these, but those below represent our default settings when we can’t agree on the time of day. Some may surprise you Some we only get to once in a blue moon. None of them have ever bored us, even a little, even after dozens of visits. Like a good spouse, they keep us intrigued, even if we’re sampling the goods for the umpteenth time:

Bouchon (A bitch to get to, but worth it.)

Noodlehead (when you can’t get into China Mama)

China Mama (when you want the best Chinese food in town)

Jamon Jamon  (If this isn’t the best gazpacho you’ve ever tasted, I’ll eat a pound of rancid octopus):

Image

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

SUSHI INTERLUDE

Sushi is a “dinner only” thing in America, which is odd since modern sushi began as a quick lunch/street food snack in Japan in the 19th Century. What it’s gained in cache it has lost in accessibility. Even our better izakaya are only open after 5:00 pm. If you’re craving Japanese at noon, your best bet is:

Chanko Shabu & Izakaya

After work, you’ll find us haunting one of these four joints, mostly, because a fifth favorite (Sushi Hiro ) is too farking far from our ‘hood to hit with any regularity.

Hiroyoshi

Yu-Or-Mi Sushi

Yui Edomae Sushi

Izakaya Go (Need we say more?):

Image

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

Speaking of “in my ‘hood”, this collection of kebabs and curries is as convenient as it comes:

Mt. Everest Indian Cuisine

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

STEAK BREAK

The wife loves steak. Perhaps a little too much.

Image(Tibia honest with you, The Food Gal® often strays from the straight and marrow, which I find fibulous. She says I bone this way out of proportion, which is more than a little humerus.)

Whenever the subject of a big, juicy steak dinner comes up, here’s a typical conversation at Chez Curtas :

Me: “I’m in the mood for a big, juicy steak dinner…”

Her: “Me too, but you can have the meat; I’m in it for the bone (see above) …you know how I get with a big hard one: licking, sucking, gnawing it clean until my face is slick with…”

Me: “Let’s stay in tonight. I have a better idea. “

Assuming our carnivorousness triumphs over the carnal, here’s where we usually end up:

Brezza (Go for the Italian food, stay for the steak.)

Carversteak

CUT

Bazaar Meat

8 Oz. Korean Steakhouse

Oscar’s Steakhouse

Vic & Anthony’s

Capital Grille (Bonus: It’s open for lunch!)

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

The last lap — all consistently terrific:

Elia Authentic Greek Taverna

Sparrow + Wolf  (not-a-steakhouse but features one of the best steaks in Vegas – see steak pic above under “Dinner” – along with some incredible veggies.):

Image(Beware: too much of this great hummus can make you falafal.)

Lamaii (Thai + wine heaven)

Khoury’s Mediterranean  (Tastier than many a Greek…there, I said it.)

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

This is not to damn many other fine places all over town. We crave Kevin Chong’s food at Japaneiro even though it always feels like driving to Bakersfield to get there. Spring Mountain Road has places popping up every week it seems, but rarely do they seem to have the talent behind them that our old favorites do. There are too many good Italians in town to count (Aromi, Milano, Ferraro’s, Al Solito Posto, D’Agostino’s…) and maybe it’s their ubiquity that keeps them off our regular rotation.

You’ve no doubt noticed the many favorite and “essential” restaurants are also not listed. As much as we love Kaiseki Yuzu, Raku and Golden Steer, popping into them for a nightly bite is almost impossible in these post-Covid times. Ditto big deal meals like Joël Robuchon, Guy Savoy and ‘e’ by José Andrês.

And as long as I’m letting you in on secrets, here’s another one: It takes a whole lot of chef or restaurant to get me interested in trying something new these days. Call it age, jadedness, or whatever, but hauling my carcass out to try someone’s idea of a culinary/business experiment is no longer my idea of fun. It sounds like the height of arrogance to say so, but at this point in my career, I can smell failure from the parking lot. My heart goes out to small business people trying to make a success in this cruel, cruel world, but trying to enlist me in your cause is a waste of time. If you’re any good, I’ll find you. If you’re really good, I will help spread the word to my small audience. They, like me, are not interested in popularity or mediocrity. Our tastes are simple: we simply want the best of everything.

Take us home, Julie:

Image

 

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:

Image

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

Image
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?

Image
Main Street’s chopped champ
Image
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.

Image

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….

Image

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.

Image
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.

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

L.A. excellence….

Image
Divine dining in LA
Image
Michael Cirmarusti blew Babs and me away

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

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

May I introduce you to The Proper Lunch Bunch…?

Image
I’m in the back, drunk again
Image
My usual at Cipriani
Image

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?

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

Bagels and other beauties…

Image

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)

Image
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.

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

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.

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

Ya gotta love….

Image
Hot diggity Danish

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

Image

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.

Image
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.

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

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

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

Image
Delicious doings at Resorts World

Most Funnest Opening – Resorts World

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

Shameless Plug No. 1:

Image
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).

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

Miscellaneous Meals of Mixed Emotions…

Image
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.

Image
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.

Image
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.

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

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.

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

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.”

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

In the best of taste…

Image
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

Image
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

Image
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

Image

Sushi of the YearSushi Hiroyoshi (above)

Image

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

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

Tacos, tacos y mas tacos…and more!

Image
Carnitas tacos at Sin Fronteras

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

Image
Ditroit chicken tacos
Image
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)

Image

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.

Image

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

Image
Finally, a veally veally good butcher in my ‘hood

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

And this little piggy….

Image
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…

Image

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

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

Image

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

Image
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.

Image
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.

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

Fabulous Faces of 2021:

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image
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.

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

The best, Jerry, the BEST!

Best New Restaurants of 2021 –

Image

Brezza

Caviar Bar

Wally’s Las Vegas

Jamon Jamon

Le Cafe Du Val

Aromi

Milano

Image
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

Image
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.

Image
Image
Image
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.

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

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

Shameless Plug #2:

Image
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).

Image

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!

Image