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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A Cheesy Happy Birthday to CUT

Why is Matthew Hurley smiling?

Because CUT Las Vegas celebrated its 9th birthday yesterday.

Why are we smiling these days?

Because we, like Matthew, are fromage-a-philes. Lovers of the fermented curd. Crazy for quark. Choosy about cheddar. Passionate for Parm. You get the idea.

Cheese carts are in short supply in Vegas these days. Cheese in general is not given its proper place at the table in all but a few places. Spanish cheeses are well-represented (but not displayed) at Jaleo, Bazaar Meat, and Julian Serrano, Morel’s does a nice job with its eclectic selection, and our big hitter French joints (Robuchon and Guy Savoy) are ripe with the stuff. But when’s the last time you were offered cheese in an Italian restaurant? Or saw any displayed?

Is it because Italy doesn’t make much cheese? Or isn’t proud of what its formaggio? Or perhaps Italians don’t care enough about their curds and whey?

No, that can’t be it.

However you slice it, Italian cheeses are the Rodney Dangerfield of ingredients in Las Vegas’s Italian risorante.

But what about American cheeses? Our artisanal cheese industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 30 years, and American cheeses are now some of the best in the world. Why don’t they get any love in Las Vegas?

Is it because Americans don’t eat much cheese?

That’s probably, partially true. We are only 19th in world cheese consumption, well behind such cheese consumers as Norway, Luxembourg and Iceland.

Or perhaps it’s because we’re ignorant about how to eat cheese — as most Amuricans still think of it as a gooey topping for pizza and burgers, or shredded into taco oblivion.

In case you haven’t heard, handmade real cheese, made with the purest, freshest milk is now being made by American fromageries from Vermont to California, Oregon to Georgia.

Many of these cheeses echo iconic European curds — Meadow Creek Grayson is trying very hard to be an Alsatian Munster; Cabot Clothbound Cheddar wishes it were a Neal’s Yard Montgomery — while others like Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue could only be made in the U.S. of A.

The fun part is tasting all of them and deciding for yourself. Europeans have the right ideas when it comes to cheese: either make a meal of it by itself (with some bread, fruit and/or a bottle of vino), or use it as the ultimate digestivo — the amino acids and enzymes in cheese making it quite useful to help you digest whatever came before it.

Great cheese is a fitting climax to any great meal in a restaurant that’s not a sushi bar. Sadly, the head-’em-up-and-move-’em-out mentality of most of our Strip restaurants does not allow for choosing and eating cheese in the leisurely way it should be enjoyed. Kudos to CUT (and Hurley) for bringing something new and fresh (in the form of something old and fermented) to one of the best steakhouses in the country.

What a fitting birthday present for CUT to give itself, and its customers.

CUT

The Palazzo Hotel and Casino

702.607.6300

CUT, Las Vegas

Below is the cheese menu at CUT with appropriate wine pairings. You’ll notice there’s nary a red wine in the bunch — the tannins in red wine always fight cheese, and increase the wine’s sourness. If you want to enjoy wine with cheese, drink a white, or something with a touch of sweetness in it. Port works beautifully. Cabernet sauvignon works not at all, no matter what the Bordelais say. If you’re buying, I’d pick the Beerenauslese; if I’m buying, that Taylor-Fladgate will do just  fine.

The Pasture

Cow…

Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Uplands Cheese Company – Dodgeville, Wisconsin

Rocket’s Robiola, Boxcarr Handmade Cheese – Cedar Grove, North Carolina

Appalachian, Meadow Creek Dairy – Galax, Virginia

Grayson, Meadow Creek Dairy – Galax, Virginia

Goat…

Goat Gouda, Central Coast Creamery – Paso Robles, California

Wabash Cannonball, Capriole Farms – Greenville, Indiana

Humboldt Fog, Cypress Grove Chevre – Arcata, California

Freya’s, Briar Rose Farms – Dundee, Oregon

Sheep…

Bohemian Blue, Hidden Springs – Westby, Wisconsin

Lamb Chopper, Cypress Grove Chevre – Arcata, California

San Andrea’s, Bellwether Farms – Sonoma County, California

Peekville Tomme, May Fold Farms – Chatahooche Hills, Georgia

 

Artisanal Cheeses, Honey Comb, Toasted Nut Bread

Three 17   /   Five 22

 

 The Vineyard

GLASS

Elio Perrone “Sourgal” Moscato d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy  2014                                            14

Torbreck Muscat “The Bothie”, Barossa Valley 2009                                                          14

Château Rieussec, Sauternes 2005                                                                                       32

Taylor-Fladgate, 10 Year Tawny, Port                                                                                    14

Grahams “Six Grapes”, Port NV                                                                                               14

 

BOTTLE

Foreau “Clos Naudin” Moelleux Reserve, Vouvray, France 2005 [750ml]                      165

Weil, Riesling “Kiedrich Gräfenberg” Beerenauslese, Rheingau 2002 [375ml]             228

Jermann “Vino Dolce Della Casa”, Picolit, Collio, Friuli 2007 [375ml]                             95

Valdespino “Cardenal” Palo Cortado, Jerez, Spain [375ml]                                               456

Domaine La Tour Vieille, Vin Doux Naturel, Banyuls, France 2007 [500ml]                  68

D’Oliveiras Terrantez Reserva 1977, Madeira [750ml]                                                       450

Dow’s, Port 1985 [750ml]                                                                                                           218

Taylor-Fladgate, 10 Year Tawny, Port [750ml]                                                                     72