The Covid Diaries – Vol. 4 – Eating Out While Rome Burns

Image(The Curbside Curmudgeon is not amused)

The week just past was a slog and a blur at the same time. It started (on Sunday) with abject despair. And ended with a glimmer of hope.

Day 10, Monday, March 23, Settling In:

He went to work today. He’s gone to work every day. Even with the generous leave being offered by the City (his employer) he’s going to go to work.

Work gives him something to do. It breaks the monotony of the day. Even if he does little but catch up on e-mails, it is time well spent. In the past seven work days his phone has rung exactly twice. Court appearances are now being done telephonically. Depositions are all being cancelled or pushed way back; deadlines are being extended left and right. Business has ground to a halt.

This will have far-reaching effects on the body politic, he thinks, and the fools have no idea what they’re doing to themselves.

He interacts with people at work the way he always has. They all think the shutdown is horseshit too, but no one can say it out-loud for fear of being shouted down by the (now galvanized) health mob.

He finds himself calling it the “lamestream media” as the torrent of overblown cases and melodramatic reporting washes over him every morning.

Sensible voices have been drowned out.

Sanity is always quieter than panic.

His neighbor offers some Spanish Iberico ham as a salve for boredom. He delivers it by coming in through the front door and running away after he drops it on the counter.

“C’mon in and have a drink!” (They are twenty feet away at the dining room table.)

“No way, man..social distancing,” he calls out over his shoulder as he exits at a pace slightly slower than being chased by someone with a knife.

This is a young, smart guy who’s now acting like a fool. Such is what a herd mentality does to people.

The Food Gal® helps make some incendiary salsa. They eat it with chips and slivers of nutty, intense, mahogany-colored ham. This is their dinner. Neither of them has much of an appetite.

Day 11, Tuesday March 24, The Curbside Curmudgeon:

Image(The new awkwardness)

They want the fear to be immediate, even when everything about it seems so remote. There is so much discordant information. Just this morning a doctor tells everyone soothingly that “80% of people will recover with only mild symptoms.” Five minutes later there’s another talking head stating the virus has “overwhelmed” America. At this point it isn’t clear whether guy #2 is talking about actual infection, or the (self-imposed) destruction of the American economy.

If you watch the day-by-day national news, all they do is run a scoreboard of who has the virus and how many have died. Into this limited mix they toss in commentators talking about how the illness will soon be “sweeping the nation” — conveniently ignoring that 99.9% of Americans have been untouched by it. (The math is as follows: 133,000 cases divided by 330,000,000 million Americans equals  .04% of the American population – the number of folks documented as having had the illness. For you math retards, that’s 4 one-hundredths of 1%.)

To keep the math going, the number of dead from the virus as of this writing numbers approximately 2,400 people. Dividing that number by the total population gives you a death % of .0007% of Americans have died from the infection. (That is 7 ten-thousandth of 1% for you numbers-challenged folks.) For the last time: These are a far cry from the numbers used to start this slow-rolling horror show.

Remember 60% infected/3% dead? Conveniently for the gloom-and-doomers, no one else does either. They just want to keep the scoreboard going… as the press would rather stoke the flames than keep anything in perspective.

The whole thing reminds one of weather panic — the constant drumbeat of impending doom pounded day and night to keep you tuned in. The only difference is: when the hurricane or snow doesn’t show (or isn’t cataclysmic), everyone shrugs and moves on. The shrugging and the moving on won’t be so easy this time. As long as New York City remains our media capital, there will be no “fair and balanced” reporting of this disaster. He knows he’s beating this to death, but so is the media, so his critics can go fuck themselves.

The weather is cold and windy. Undeterred, they set out to Trés Cazuelas to show support for Angelo Reyes and his crew as they fight to stay alive.

He has a new moniker: Curbside Curmudgeon. It fits his mood. The cold breeze fights their dining al fresco scenario, but they persevere.

Reyes’ stews and salsas are next-level, and go great in small, fresh tortillas, even cold ones. Eating them outside is a race against the wind, but the chilly weather keeps the wine at the right temp, so there’s a silver lining in everything. This is also the best guacamole in Las Vegas, so the comfort food makes up for the cold:

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Day 12, Wednesday March 25, Anne Frank Would Understand:

His oldest sister posts this meme that’s going around:

https://static.wixstatic.com/media/620f5f_e071488913d64d83868b4e97f4890587~mv2.jpeg/v1/fill/w_939,h_939,al_c,q_85,usm_0.66_1.00_0.01/620f5f_e071488913d64d83868b4e97f4890587~mv2.jpeg?fbclid=IwAR2ON0oE1WW0Kvu4IVW2ttDyhlTYbAy2lp5fdnG5wc8mgxMliRuvbcMdlHs

How true, but being stir-crazy isn’t the worst of this. The truly insidious thing is how any fear — stoked into a panic by government and media–  can empower people to police each other. “Police each other” meaning, in this context,  turning into the lowest, sniveling, holier-than-thou asshole — the type who gets great joy in telling the teacher on fellow students, turning someone into the HOA, or betraying a Jewish family to the Nazis.

Give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile. Tell humans they have a right to tell others how to behave and a small-but-significant portion of them will take it upon themselves to act as judge, jury, and executioner to anyone they disagree with.

Marché Bacchus — which, you may recall, was the site of some wine buying last week — gets narc’d on by some do-gooder. “People were inside Marche Bacchus buying wine and sitting down!” she screamed to business licensing officials.  “Something must be done!”

Dutifully, the government officials appear to investigate; feathers are ruffled, but assurances given and the whole thing passes. Meanwhile, people are packing into Walmart, Costco, drug stores and supermarkets and no one says a thing. Government policy in action.

Later in the day, the City of Las Vegas, in a show of sanity,  announces liquor and wine stores can continue to sell their wares curbside.

The Gubenator’s office remains silent — apparently content with the thousands of strangers milling about supermarkets all over town.

Image(Coming up – one lonely cappuccino)

The day starts with a lonely cappuccino at PublicUs – sold at a take-out booth inside the front door. A young bloke takes your money turns around and makes the coffee. It is a splendid cappuccino, perhaps the best in town. There are two tiny tables left out front where it can be sipped and contemplated. These would no doubt greatly offend the Covid Gestapo.

The coffee costs, $4; he gives the kid a double sawbuck and tells him to keep it.

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On the way back from coffee, he bumps into chef Donald Lemperle at VegeNation. Like many small operators, ⁦@VegeNation is keeping its doors open by having a single chef do all the work. Vegans are a loyal bunch,”  Lemperle tells him, “and they’re keeping me busy.” This brings a smile to both their faces.

The Food Gal® picks him up and they head to the far confines of Eastern Boulevard in Henderson for lunch. There is only one restaurant (indeed only one thing) that can get him to this whole, godforsaken area of the world: Saga Pastry + Sandwich. Of course we bring our own table and chairs (see pic at top of page)….and then we chow down on superb, sweet Arctic shrimp (tasting like a combination of crab and lobster) and a smorgasbord sando to beat the band.

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They even squeeze in a little chat time with chef/owner Gert Kvalsund. This improves everyone’s mood, as does another cup of joe from Bad Owl in the same shopping center. When this is all over, he hopes people will more readily appreciate how much good sandwiches and cups of coffee can do to improve your mood.

But his biggest fear is just the opposite: that the only survivors of this self-inflicted apocalypse will be standardized food and corporate restaurants.

David Chang agrees with this dire prediction. Strange bedfellows indeed.

 

The List – January 2020

Image(Happy New Year!)

For years I’ve maintained that to do this job correctly, you have to be a little touched, a lot obsessive, and slightly manic about where you eat.

It’s also like being a porn star: something that sounds like a good idea (to dudes anyway) until you have to do it daily, on command.

And like being a porn star, most guys think they could do it, but they can’t.

Let’s go through my month (a very light one by my standards) and see if you could keep up, eating-wise. Keep in mind these dishes are just the highlights — every meal contained much more to eat, some things of which I nibbled at, other parts I devoured wholesale.

It started with a smiley face on a croque Madame on January 1st at Marche Bacchus (top of page).

Then, in rapid succession, over the course of the month, we devoured…

Esther’s Kitchen

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We grow weary of telling you how great Esther’s is….but we will never get tired of James Trees’ cacio e pepe (above).

DE Thai Kitchen

Image(Kanom jeen namya pu AKA fish curry with noodles)

Not to take anything away from our wealth of Thai options downtown, but the food at the teeny tiny DE Thai Kitchen is the best of the bunch. When the fish-crab curry (above) is on the menu, get it.

Kaiseki Yuzu

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Sure the kaiseki menu is expensive (starting at $100/pp), but the small bites/sake bar up front (above) is quite the deal for food this refined, and a good introduction to Japanese food the way it tastes in Japan.

New York Bagel and Bakery

No better bagels in our humble burg.

ShangHai Taste

Image(Through these doors lie dumpling delights)

Screw those over-hyped Chinese chains (Tim Ho Wan, Din Tai Fung), Jimmy Li’s xiao long bao are the bomb and made with love, not on an assembly line.

Serrano’s Mexican Food

Image(This salsa lit me up from my head tomatoes)

There is nothing remarkable about Serrano’s.…except the service and the spot-on Mexican food. It’s also one of the spiffiest holes-in-the-walls you will encounter, with not a grimy corner in site. A real hidden gem in an unlikely location.

Sage

Image(Egg-cellent caviar; unbliniably good pancakes)

We pop into Sage every other year just to make sure it hasn’t lost its fastball. It hasn’t lost its fastball. In fact it may be throwing more heat than ever. New chef Thomas Griese is seeing to that.

Hiroyoshi

Image(I’m urchin you to try this uni)

Every time I eat at Hiroyoshi, I kick myself for not eating here more often. Simply marvelous sushi at more than reasonable prices for what you get. The uni 3-ways will have you dropping your chopsticks in appreciation.

Estiatorio Milos

Image(These prawns give great head)

These Carabineros deep water prawns may be $30 a piece, but sucking sherry out of one of their detached craniums is the best cephalothorax you can get on the Strip.

Moon Palace

Image(This Double is damn Tasty)

Everyone knows David Chang hates me. And I’m no fan of his warmed over, quasi-Korean concepts at Momofuku, either. But I’m willing to give his new joints a fair shot, and Moon Palace (located across the hall from the spanking new Majordomo), is a mini-burger empire whose time has come. Delicious from the first bite, and probably the apotheosis of the American slider.

Eiffel Tower Restaurant

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Sometimes, we go visit an old favorite hoping for the best but expecting less. Despite the great view and good service, this place is become way too touristy for any serious gastronome. The lunch menu was mainly sandwiches; the torchon of foie gras wasn’t as finely-tuned as it should have been, and the burger not worth the pain-in-the-ass trek it takes to get there from the parking lot. Methinks me and The Food Gal® have eaten our last meal here.

18bin

Image(Well kiss my biscuits)

Fingers are crossed that Louisiana native Jen Landry (above) can put this place on the culinary map. The menu seems promising, and the gal has a way with biscuits. If only the physical layout of the joint weren’t so shitty.

Graffiti Bao

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We liked Graffiti Bao, but didn’t love it enough to ever again travel to the far southwest to eat its bread-y, doughy dumplings. It didn’t help that each of the fillings (Szechuan beef, kung pao chicken and barbecue pork were almost indistinguishable in taste. Our Chinese-Korean dining companion was also put off by the burrata offering on the menu (with garlic-chili sauce and scallion pancake!) — a combination that makes as much sense as kimchi on a pizza. “White people trying too hard to be hip Asians,” she sniffed. And she’s probably right.

The Goodwich

Image(Move over Babe Ruth…and pastrami on rye)

The Patty (pictured above) deserves to be in the Sandwich Hall of Fame. It takes a while to melt all of that gooey cheese into the chopped beef, but the wait is always worth it.

Suzuya Patisserie & Cafe

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On South Buffalo,  a mini-micro-climate of hip Asian-fusion eats has sprung to life, with Suzuya, Graffiti Bao and Fukuburger all located within a stone’s throw of each other. Each space (like its surrounding shopping center) is spanking new, with all the polished, antiseptic charm of a mall food court. This seems to bother the patrons not at all, as from the get-go, Suzuya has been packed with customers both Asian and non-, in numbers that would’ve overwhelmed its original cracker-box location, a few miles west. Suzuya’s pastries are very French, but also a la Française as filtered through Japanese sensibilities, meaning: more delicate and less sweet. From the crowds we’ve observed, there seems to be a pent-up demand for this Sino-Franco fusion, as there should be.

Soyo Korean Barstaurant

Image(Who knew everything but the kitchen sink could be so tasty?)

Korean food baffles me. It’s intense, over-the-top, ingredient-heavy, starchy, spicy, gut-busting and soul-warming all in one. Korean food after a Japanese meal is like a NFL team lining up next to the Bolshoi Ballet. I love it but I don’t claim to understand it. If you want to do both, Soyo is a good place to start.

PublicUs

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I love croissants like a bear loves honey. Like a Pelosi loves impeachments; like a Trump loves beauty pageants. The ones at PublicUs might be the best in town. If not, they’re certainly in the top three.

Yum Cha

Image(Shrimply mouth-watering)

Our new go-to for dim sum. Not in Chinatown, but a real find on W. Tropicana with great prices, an open kitchen, a picture menu (great for dim sum beginners) and very attentive service.

Cornish Pasty Co.

(Belly bombs away!)

If you look up “stick to your ribs” in a dictionary, you’ll see a picture of a Cornish pasty.

El Dorado Cantina

That Ass Though Jennifer Lopez GIF - ThatAssThough JenniferLopez Shakira GIFs(Some buns get a rise out of us)

We spent $83 on Mexican food here. For 3 tacos, and bowl of soup, and appetizer and a beer. For eighty-three bucks I want mariachi music. Or Shakira shaking her ass in my face.  Never again.

Cipriani

Image(Baked, Béchamel’d, and beautiful)

I eat at Cipriani so often they ought to name a booth after me. I could eat its baked tagliolini with ham (above) every day of the week and never get tired of it. Like everything here, it is stunningly simple Italian food served by real pros who never miss a beat.  If you want to see what a great Italian ristorante looks like, this is the place. But don’t say I didn’t warn you about the gelato. You’ll be hooked from the first bite.

That’s 21 restaurants in 31 days — barely breaking a sweat by my standards.

Remember, I’m plowing all this ground so you don’t have to (kind of like a porn star). My continuing mission is to guide you to only the best of the best, so you will know where best to spend your dining out dollars.

We at Being John Curtas hope these posts are helpful to achieve these goals. But if any of this causes you menu envy, try to remember this German word to help you over your green-eyed hunger hurdles:

Futterneid is a compound noun which is made up of the words ‘food’ and ‘jealousy’. The German word ‘Futter’ translates as ‘animal feed’ or ‘fodder’, but is also used colloquially to describe human food. Futterneid translates into English literally  as ‘food jealousy’, but the more idiomatic ‘food envy’ is a better translation.

The word describes the highly relatable feeling when you simply order food at a restaurant wrong, and then have to suffer through the rest of the meal watching someone else eating something that looks and smells much better than what you have.

Examples:

Er war gestern abend wegen des Futterneids so mürrisch.

He was so grumpy yesterday evening because he was envious of the food.

Danke schoen to @thelocalGermany for giving us a word that is now an essential part of our eating vocabulary.

Prost!

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The Best New Restaurants of 2017

ELV note: It’s that time of the year, food fans. The time when every half-baked web site offers up “best of” lists of places they’ve never visited, and hardly know anything about. Some will no doubt regurgitate whatever they’re being paid to advertise….er…uh….I mean post, but for the serious connoisseur, this is the place to find the good stuff — the worthwhile places that rang our chimes in the past year. A few of these opened in late 2016, but we didn’t get to them until the past 12 months, and since we’re the only critic that counts (ARROGANT? YOU BET!), that’s good enough for us.  Of all the eateries that showed up in 2017, these are the ones that matter.

Final note: Only time will tell if ’17 was the watershed year in local restaurants we hope it was. But there’s no denying a lot of serious cooking made it to the neighborhoods, and if this portends a trend, it bodes well for the future of good eating in Las Vegas.

Without further ado, and in no particular order (except the last one) here are the Best New Restaurants of 2017 (click on the name to link with the restaurant’s web site or Facebook page):

Ping Pang Pong

I know PPP is not new, but it might as well be.  It’s fresh digs in the Gold Coast Hotel (at top of page) make it seem like a whole new restaurant. Actually, it is a whole new joint when you consider the upgraded surroundings, the expanded (and easier-to-navigate) menu, and the alacrity with which classic Mandarin and Cantonese dishes are brought to your table, only seconds after being wok-tossed, steamed or deep-fried. Our best, classic Chinese restaurant (and dim sum) got a whole lot better in 2017, and for that it rates a wave.

Tony Xu (the chef behind the über-Sichuan Chengdu Taste), quietly opened this Chongqing-style noodle house on Spring Mountain Road a few months ago, and seemingly like magic, every Szechuan-loving fellow traveler for 250 miles knew it was there. Tongue-numbing soups and chewy noodles (above) that take no prisoners, but you won’t find any better soups this side of the San Gabriel Valley. Since it’s the only restaurant on this list without a web page, a Facebook page, or a listing (beyond an Instagram page, for its namesake restaurant in California), we will tell you it’s located at 4355 Spring Mountain Road, #107.

https://www.reviewjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/8215010_web1_chica_lorenagarcia1_030817.jpg(Why is this woman smiling? Because she’s never in the kitchen.)

Chica

Within months of opening in the Spring, Chica lost its executive chef (Mike Minor), who returned to his former gig at Border Grill. Vagabond chefs drive our staff crazy, but all we can hope for is that Lorena Garcia’s operation is tight enough to keep up the quality cooking. (She, of course, will show up once or twice a year to get her picture taken and pick up the cash.) Regardless of those concerns, the food here is a refreshing blend of the familiar (guacamole, classic ceviche) with the fascinating (asado negro arepas, porchetta with crispy yuca hash). Sara Steele’s desserts are not to missed, so get all of them.

Sparrow + Wolf

As with Boteco and The Black Sheep, we’re sometimes tempted to call out Brian Howard on how over-complicated his food can be. But there’s no denying how tasty his udon Bolognese or Campfire Duck is, so we bite our tongue. When, like his colleagues, he hits his marks, the results are thrilling. If you’re over 40, you’ll be the oldest person in the joint. No matter what your age, if you love belt-and-suspenders cooking, you’ll be in hog heaven.

8oz Korean Steakhouse

Several new Korean steakhouse chains landed(?) on our shores in 2016. This one arrived three months ago and is locally-owned, not a franchise, and the best of the bunch. Superb sides (called banchan), and beef that’s a cut above. Nice bar, too.

Ramen Hashi

Ramen excites me about as much as Vietnamese pho, which is to say not at all. But the Food Gal® swears Ramen Hashi could finally unseat Monta for tonkotsu hegemony, and we’ll take her word for it.

Boteco

The only thing I hate about Boteco is how far it is from my house. Located on the loathsome south Eastern corridor, it is small, personal, wine-focused, and everything a locally-owned joint should be. At dinner, there are only twelve things on the menu, but the sliders, avocado crunch salad and Singapore Chilli Crab dip are a delight, and the kind of food that’s usually unknown this far from the Strip.  There’s even a poutine on the menu for the calorie-challenged. Fabulous Spanish ham, good oysters, and escargot croquetas, and braised beef with Piedmontese rice are also there for ectomorphs in need of a good rib-sticking. This is a mix and match menu that’s made for fun. Boteco means “meeting place” for friends and family, and if you and yours are looking for a place to congregate, you won’t find any better in this neck of the culinary desert.

7th & Carson

Gregg Fortunato is one of the few chefs in town confident enough to serve us a plate of simple, perfect tomatoes seasoned only with a little salt. His menu is full of the same confidence, and doesn’t have a clinker on it. His chicken wings deserve to be in the poultry hall of fame.

The Black Sheep

People keep calling Jamie Tran’s new joint “Vietnamese-American” because that’s how it describes itself, but there’s nothing remotely Vietnamese about braised short ribs, tuna tartare (above), and smoky beet salad. Hers is a unique, personal cuisine with influences befitting a classically trained chef who wants to infuse European techniques with Asian sensibilities. (Or is it the other way around?) Unlike any other place in town, and a foodie favorite because of it.

Café Breizh

Our best French pastries, period. With coffee, crepes, and a few, house-baked breads to match. Lots of people extol the virtues of other pastry shops, but this is the real, artisanal deal. We’d walk five miles for a bite of that crepe (pictured above), and have! Merci beaucoup, Pierre Gatel!

 

https://i0.wp.com/www.novusarchitecture.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/Zuma-Entrance_Web.jpg (About as intimate as Wal-Mart)

Zuma

Big box Japanese restaurants are sooo 2oo7, but if you insist, this is the one to go to.

Prosecco Fresh Italian Kitchen

Good restaurants in the southwest part of town are harder to find than a sous chef without tattoos. Daniele Dotto’s menu is full of pleasant surprises, not the least of which are his seafood offerings – like the shrimp and squid ink pasta seen above — as tasty as you’ll find five miles west of Las Vegas Boulevard, at much gentler prices.

Image may contain: food(Slurpable on Spring Mountain Road)

Marugame Monzo

Another noodle joint? Yep, and just the ticket for lovers of those thick chewy Japanese udon noodles (and killer chicken karrage) that taste just like they do in Shibuya.

(At Bavette’s, photoshop is the only way to see anything)

Bavette’s Steakhouse

Darker than Kevin Spacey’s sex life, and not for the faint of wallet or dim of eyesight. But if you can find your food (on the menu or on the plate) you’ll enjoy some magnificent meat at some magnificent prices. The $73 dry-aged strip announces itself as a major player in our rootin’ tootin’ high steaks rodeo.

https://cdn1.vox-cdn.com/uploads/chorus_asset/file/8804929/MB_Steak_3.jpg(Here, at least, you can see your food)

MB Steak

More modern, more inventive, and better lit than Bavette’s…and in the Hard Rock Hotel. Well, three out of four ain’t bad. The steaks are top shelf, but it’s the burger, the appetizers, and the veal chop that will get your attention.

Contento Pizzeria & Bar

Pulchritudinous pies, excellent pastas, and a reasonable wine list (that can be purchased retail) have suddenly made Jerry’s Nugget (in North Las Vegas!), a must go for intrepid seekers of great pizzas and Strip-worthy Italian food.

(Fiery food that ‘s fit to be Thai’d)

Chuchote Thai Bistro & Desserts

Korean isn’t the only Asian country to see a marked improvement in its Vegas restaurants. No longer is Thai food consigned to the sloppy, sweet-sour appeasement of American palates. Southern Thai specialties are what to get here, and the brothers and sister who run the place will joyfully guide you through their artistic interpretations of classic Siamese dishes.

Image may contain: people sitting, food and indoor(Rib-stickin’ ribs at Blue Ribbon)

Blue Ribbon

Another vastly improved re-boot — substantially different and so much better than its forerunner. The Bromberg Brothers got back to basics, and in doing so, brought the best of their Big Apple icon to our humble burg. There is no better American food anywhere in Las Vegas. This new BR reminds us of the old BR in lower Manhattan — the one that put the BB boys on the map.

Elia Authentic Greek Taverna

One word: galaktoboureko (pictured below). The world’s greatest dessert. (TRUE!) Every lunch and dinner. Made on premises, just like everything here — unlike many a Greek joint that couldn’t exist without cheap, nasty Sysco gyro meat.  This is Greek food like it tastes in Greece. Very little pita bread, a mountain of mezze (dips and such) and seafood done right. (The owners are Estiatorio Milos veterans.) One of the many reasons we consider 2017 to be a watershed year for fabulous new food in the ‘burbs.

 Dishonorable Mention: Momofuku. David Chang’s one-note cooking swept Millennials off their feet a decade ago. Now he’s drowning them in a tsunami of umami. Like all “celebrity chefs,” (save the French), expect him in Vegas about as often as you see me at Applebee’s. If/when he shows up, he will no doubt opine on everything from Anthony Bourdain’s love life to the state of soba noodles on Spring Mountain Road — all to the rapt attention of his adoring followers — the same people who love overpaying for the privilege of eating food done much better two miles away.