The Final Countdown

We’re in the home stretch food fans.

The final innings.

The last quarter.

Time is running out.

Minutes are slipping away.

And the end is almost in sight.

Our loyal readers know what we’re talking about.

Our staff is girding its loins for the final push.

And we at ELV know that the time is nigh.

What we’re talking about is the conclusion. The climax. The finale.

The peroration.

The denouement, if you will, of this web site in its current incarnation.

Come April 1, 2018, on the exact, 10th year anniversary of its birth, EATING LAS VEGAS (www.eatinglv.com) will cease to exist in its present form.

What will succeed it is anyone’s guess.

One thing we do know is that we’re not going away completely.

There will be a re-boot; there will be an outlet for our deathless prose, our incisive wit, our impeccable palate, and our call-it-like-it-is ruminations on Las Vegas: its people, places, and eating parlors.

We have been thinking long and hard about these things over the past few months, and we’ve come to a few conclusions about what we don’t want to do, but the path ahead is still a bit foggy. Therefore, in the spirit of honesty, respect, gratefulness, and camaraderie with you, a follower who has been faithful enough to still be reading our words, it is only right that we share some of these thoughts.

One thing is clear, and has been clear to us for over five years now: the time of the blogs is over. Facebook killed the whole idea of someone blogging some blog that their blog-appreciating fans  submitted their own blogviations to about whatever bloggings were being blogged.

Blogs were once a beautiful thing. From around 2002-2012 they were a way for people with common interests to communicate. Whether your passion was petit fours or Parcheesi, you could set up a blog and people who were interested would google and find it and they’d all create a small community of readers who shared knowledge, comments, arguments, witticisms, about whatever obsession was held dear to their hearts. Back in the day, there were blogs about Mullets Galore, Hot Chicks with Douchebags, and, my personal favorite: MenWhoLookLikeKennyRogers.com.

Small communities would coalesce around politics, quilting, Ryan Gosling Disneyland Cats, Bea Arthur Mountains Pizza, you name it. Now they’re gone. All gone. As gone as Gosling’s acting chops.

As gone as the hope that the interwebs would spawn a new way, highly informed and dexterous way of communicating with each other.

What began so hopefully morphed into trolls, clickbait and cat videos.

What killed this hope was that great bugaboo: advertising. More specifically, the lust of Facebook to aggregate all of its fans into mind-staggering numbers that it could then sell to its advertisers — companies that have paid it a fortune to access all those eyeballs.

If you’re like me (i.e. most grownups) you started with Facebook around 2008-2009. Back then, it seemed like a groovy way to connect with friends and share pictures. Little did anyone suspect that it would become the primary way people would start interacting with each other on the internet. Little did we know that those advertisers would mine all that Facebook data about us and  turn it into a privacy-compromised, marketing juggernaut.

By opting to communicate very loudly and very publicly on Facebook on just about every topic, the public was basically turning its back on those little communities of quilters or sailors or Female Lego Academics and announcing that if it didn’t happen on Facebook, it didn’t really happen.

This phenomenon, along with the improvement of phone cameras and Instagram, effectively killed food blogs.

Of course, the rise of Yelp, TripAdvisor et al had a lot to do with it too. Once you could dial up a crowd-sourced opinion of everything from a hole-in-the-wall taco joint to a haute cuisine palace, there was little reason to endure the bloviations of some gasbag “expert” before deciding where to eat.

In the good old days, those gasbags were the only ones out there telling you where to eat. Today, everyone is telling you.

Back in the day, people had to read to get information. My early restaurant years were soaked with the prose of Seymour Britchky, Craig Claiborne and Jay Jacobs. Decades before everyone was posting pictures of their shrimp salad, you had to wade through hundreds of words describing every dish in detail in order to get a mental picture of a meal.  Those words were dense with descriptors and sometimes the sledding was heavy, but it pulled you in, made you commit. And with that commitment came accomplishment — the sense that you actually knew something after you finished reading a food article or a review.

Epicures no longer have to put in the work to call themselves such. All they have to do is look at pictures and pay attention to whatever Thrillist, or 50 Best list, or award list is in the news this week. In 2018, galloping gourmets simply notch their belts, post photos, and call themselves connoisseurs.

But there’s a big difference between helicoptering to the top of Mount Everest and actually climbing there. Unfortunately, in the food world — and especially in the world of social media as it pertains to food — these distinctions have all been wiped out. No one really gives a shit if the editor of Eater or Thrillist or Travel + Leisure actually knows anything about their topic, or has eaten in the restaurants they write about. All that matters is that they’ve distilled a very little amount of information into an easily digestible form, so it can be swallowed whole by the gullible public.

Like I said: marketing eventually ruins everything.

So, with these things in mind, where is this food blog to go? (BTW and FWIW: we’ve always hated calling this a “blog.”  Blogs are for weird people who love posting pictures of ugly Renaissance babies and hungover owls. To us, Eating Las Vegas always been our website.)

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A few things have become clearer to us in the last year:

Item: We’ve had it with the Strip. The nickel-and-diming of resort fees, paid parking, and such have stuck in our craw, but what has really cinches it for us is the stagnancy of ideas and the milking of old cows going on there. Wynn/Encore spent five years trumpeting its restaurants. Now, with a couple of exceptions, it’s manned by a bunch of itinerant chefs. Perhaps Elaine Wynn can restore its F&B program to some of its former glory. (Hope springs eternal!) As for the rest of the bean-counting casinos: there hasn’t been an original idea in any of them in a decade. I’m not saying I won’t go to the Strip to dine, but I’m through writing about it on this web site. If you want to know what I think about its big hitter eateries, BUY MY BOOK! Given the lack of imagination going on up and down Las Vegas Boulevard, everything I wrote for the 2018 edition should be good for at least the next three years. I’ll still post pictures of my dinners at Guy Savoy, Bazaar Meat or Wing Lei (see above, for example) on social media, but my days of praising them to the heavens on this site are over.

Item: I’ve been traveling a lot in the past two years and intend to keep it up. Expect a lot more stuff about my edible adventures abroad.

Item: I’ve been cooking a lot lately as well. (Little known fact: before I started writing seriously about restaurants in 1995, I had been a serious home cook for twenty years.) Therefore, we may even turn this into a food/cooking/recipe site (occasionally).

Item: Wine is a passion of mine . Wine writing is usually a bore. Expect the occasional post about what I’m drinking and why. I’ll try to make it informative and not boring.

Item: Life in general is a passion of mine. Expect occasional blowhard observations about some obscure thing that interests me.

Item: Cocktails, spirits and whiskeys continue to fascinate me (beer less so), so expect an occasional dissertation about what and where you should be drinking.

Item: I promise you I will never, ever, subject you to my politics. There are more than enough political writers in the world. Not even I am interested in my political views. Politics is a boring little game played by small-minded little people, and the only reason we are inundated with it (in the press) is because it is one of the few human activities that is going on all the time.

Item: The one exception to the above rule will be gun control. I have felt strongly about gun control  all of my adult life– because I believe we all have a moral obligation to prevent murder. If you’re one of those psycho-sexual, barrel-stroking gun-loving, 2nd Amendment freaks, don’t read me. For the rest of you, I will try to keep my outrage to a minimum.

Item: We’ve been reading a lot lately…and may even throw in an occasional book review.

Item: Asian food/Chinatown/Spring Mountain Road: I expect to be eating a lot more Asian food in the coming year and reporting on it more frequently on this site.

Item: My days of searching out cheap taco shops, food trucks and burger bars are over. I still enjoy a good sandwich (and great tacos), but it will have to be pretty awesome to get me to write about some bit of meat slapped between some bread.

Item: Downtown Las Vegas is booming and I’ll continue to be its biggest booster.

Item: The name of this site may be changing. It’s going to be more about other things than just “Eating Las Vegas.” More likely the title will be something along the lines of:

JOHN CURTAS is

Eating Las Vegas

Traveling the World

Drinking More Than He Should

and

Telling It Like It Is

….or something like that.

In the next few weeks (after we return from New Mexico this weekend), we will be highlighting a few of our favorite meals of the this (still young) year, and then shutting things down (on April 1) for a month or so.

When next we re-appear (sometime before Summer), you can expect a stripped down site, composed mainly of our prose, and, as always, a few tasty snaps to accompany the articles.

As always, bon appetit to all.

Where I’ll Dine in 2018 – Part Two

ELV note: Rather than attempt a comprehensive look at Las Vegas restaurants (for that, you’ll have to buy my  book) we at ELV thought it better to let you know where you’re likely to find us dining in the coming months. As we said in our last post, we are done exploring every nook and cranny of the local food scene. We’re not going to ignore the shiny and the new, but more likely you’ll find us patronizing the well-worn and comfortable.  And nothing fits our comfort zone more these days than Chinatown.

The Food Gal® once asked me what I would miss most about Las Vegas were we to move to another town. The things I would miss most about Vegas, would be, in order:

  • The weather
  • My house
  • My swimming pool in summer
  • My barbecue/smoker
  • Chinatown
  • Having half a dozen great French restaurants within 15 minutes of my front door
  • Ditto: a dozen great steakhouses
  • Mexicans
  • Asians

Why the last two? Because they provide more flavor to our humble burg than all the gueros and gaijin combined.

Las Vegas’s Mexicans restaurants don’t compare with SoCal, Phoenix, Tucson and Albuquerque, but all it takes is a quick trip to any Mexicali eatery in Atlanta or St. Louis to see how good we’ve got it.

And when it comes to Asian food, there are very few cities in America that compare with the offerings up and down Spring Mountain Road.

As with Mexican food, I can hear the aficionados braying: “Nothing you have compares with the San Gabriel Valley, or Garden Grove, or Richmond (outside of Vancouver) Canada!”

True dat, but for a town our size, the quality and variety of our Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean restaurants is pretty darn impressive, and beats anything Miami, Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver or Philadelphia can throw at you.

Best of all, our Chinatown (which really should be called Asiatown) is mostly compressed into one, three mile stretch of road. (As tasty as it is, traipsing all over Alhambra, San Gabriel and the Valley Boulevard Corridor can be a slog for all but the most intrepid gastronaut.)

Chinatown really rings our chimes, again and again. It’s the one food address in town that we never tire of exploring. When Thai tedium ensues, there’s always some copious Korean. Should we be sated by sushi, there’s always some restorative ramen at hand. Upscale Vietnamese? Verily, it is so. Interesting izakaya? Indubitably.

Plus, all of this bounty seems to be increasing. As we type these words, a huge condominium complex is under construction near Valley View Boulevard, along with a giant new shopping mall (dubbed “Shanghai Plaza”) a half mile up the street.

Something tells us the quantity and quality of Chinatown eats is about to grow exponentially. In the meantime, here’s where we’ll frequenting in the coming year:

CHINATOWN

(We have purposely included a few non-Chinatown addresses here, but lumped them in this section in the interest of pan-Pacific consistency.)

Noodles, Noodles, Noodles

(“Screaming For Vengeance” at Ramen Sora)

No one does cheap eats better than Asians.  Ten years ago there was nary a noodle to be found in Chinatown that wasn’t in a pot of Vietnamese pho. Now, nourishing noodle nibbling necessitates numerous navigations. Put another way, the number of choices is notable. And without a whole lot of negotiating, you can become a noodle-noshing nerd.

For ramen, we prefer an old reliable — Ramen Sora — along with an interesting upstart: Ramen Hashi, a mile or so up the road. Ramen Sora satisfies our cravings for miso-based noodles (often with everything but the kitchen sink thrown on top), while Ramen Hashi has blown us away recently with its lighter, shio (salt) and shoyu (soy) based chicken broths. We have nothing against Monta, and give it all the props in the world for pioneering our ramen revolution, but Hashi and Sora are just as good, and never quite as crowded.

For unctuous udon,  Marugame Monzo fills the bill with its thick, chewy strands of cotton-white udon (and killer karaage). And for the best of Szechuan, nothing beats Mian Taste (or Mian Sichuan Noodle, depending on how literal you want to be) and the fiery, lip numbing intensity of the Szechuan peppercorns that infuse each dish.

If it’s all-around noodle-liciouness you seek,nothing beats the hand-pulled beauties at Shang Artisan Noodle….or its pocket beef pancake:

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Sushi Fever

Life is too short to eat cheap fish. It sounds elitist (and it is!) but you should have to pay through the nose for your seafood. Nasty, shit-fed, farm raised fish doesn’t do anyone any good, and ocean trawling for cheap tuna is destroying our eco-systems.

My solution: Ban cheap fish altogether and make people shell out a car payment for their sushi. It’s going to come to this eventually, so we might as well start now.

If you want cheap protein, eat a chicken.

If you want wonderful seafood treated right, try this on for size:

(Seared mackerel at Yuzu)

If you want the best sushi in town, go to Yui Edomae Sushi. Or Kabuto. If you want the best sushi in the suburbs go to Kaiseki Yuzu or Hiroyoshi. I don’t eat sushi anywhere else in this town and neither should you.

Why do I have to keep telling you these things?

More Meals of the Rising Sun

The Japanese revolution began in January, 2008 with the opening of Raku. We hear an expansion is planned and we hope that means it will be easier to get into. (Don’t bet on it; it’s still one tough ticket.) Raku’s excellence and popularity shows no signs of abating, as it has continues to elevate our dining scene, and set a standard for all of Spring Mountain Road to emulate.  In the ten years hence, it has begat such tasty options as Japanese Curry Zen and Raku Sweets. Curry Zen is a must for lovers of Japanese curry. Its spinach curry rice shows up at my house at least once a month (the Food Ga®  is a big fan of their takeout), and it might be the healthiest cheap eats in Vegas. Raku Sweets remains a marvel. We can never get in for dessert (always a wait) but weekend lunch is definitely on the horizon.

Very Vietnamese

Gawd I wish I could parse the fine differences between this pho parlor and that pho parlor. They all have the same menu and they’re all alike to this haolie. All I know is this: When I get a hankerin’ for pho or spring rolls downtown, I head straight to Le Pho. When I want more interesting, out-of-the-box Vietnamese, I head straight to District One. I really don’t give a shit about any other Vietnamese restaurant in town, because I’ve been to ’em all, and they all taste the same.

Korean ‘Cue Quest

Last year we did a Korean ‘cue quest. This year we’ve decided to hang out at 8 Oz Korean Steakhouse.

When the mood for more homey Korean fare hits, you’ll find us at Mother’s Korean Grill or Kkulmat Korean Kitchen. 

We don’t give a flying frijole that Kkulmat has only 2 TripAdvisor reviews. It’s really really good, and the people are really really nice. At Mother’s, they barely seem to tolerate round-eyes, but the banchan and dolsot bibimbap make up for the cursory service.

That is all.

Don’t Leave Your Chinese To Chance

(Let Jimmy Li slip you the tongue at Niu-Gu)

Chinese restaurants still outnumber all others on Spring Mountain, and mediocre Chinese restaurants are more the rule than the exception.  The Chinatown Plaza pictured at the top of the page – the place that started our Asian  revolution in 1995 – is chock full of mediocrity, and every strip mall seems to have at least one forgettable boba tea or Taiwanese street food joint. But there is fascinating food to be found. You just have to be smart, read this blog, follow me on Instagram, and buy my book. (That’s two shameless plugs in one post if you’re counting.)

For dim sum, and many other classic Chinese favorites, head straight to Ping Pang Pong. For sophisticated Mandarin-worthy fare at a fraction of what you’ll pay on the Strip, nobody beats what Jimmy Li cooks up every night at the unassuming Niu-Gu Noodle House. (P.s. the tea service is spectacular as well.)

Chengdu Taste is where we head when we’ve got a hankerin’ for dan dan mian, green sauce chicken, or boiled fish in chili sauce. It is a restaurant that brooks no compromise and lays on the tongue-numbing heat the way they do in southwestern China. J & J Szechuan is older, less flashy, and not as of-the-moment as chef Tony Xu’s Alhambra offshoot — but it’s almost as good, even cheaper, and usually easier to get into.

Thai One On

Image may contain: food(Our usual at Ocha Thai)

We group our Thai restaurants into 3 categories:

1) Rustic and authentic

2) Upscale and authentic

3) Everyone else

Gallery(Nam-Prik-Ong – red chili dip at Lotus of Siam)

When it comes to rustic and authentic, nothing beats what the adorable little ladies of Ocha Thai are turning out. A little more polished are the operations at Weera Thai (which features quite a few Laotian dishes) and the incendiary stylings of Chuchote Thai. If you want to know what it feels like to have a flame thrower stuck up your fundament, ask for anything “Bangkok hot” at any of them, and then hold on for dear life the next morning.

Thai comes in more sophisticated form (and with better wines) at Chada Street and Chada Thai as well as at that old reliable: Lotus of Siam. We’ve twice tried to get into Lotus at their new location on West Flamingo, and have been thwarted by long lines every time. At this rate, we may have to wait for their old location to reopen for our yearly fix of Koong Char Num Pla (raw shrimp) and Nam Kao Tod (crispy rice), or to get another chance to waltz around America’s best German Riesling list.

Sweets Release

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What do we always say: When you want a good dessert in an Asian restaurant, go to a French one.

That said, there’s no denying the gorgeousness of Bank Atcharawan’s milkshakes (above) at The Patio Desserts and Drinks, or his Thai toast:

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….or just about any other thing he’s serving to satiate your sweet (or tea) tooth.

Other than that, and the gorgeous creations of Mio-san at Raku Sweets:

…there’s not a whole lot we can recommend from our Asian brethren in the dessert department.

Boba tea is a bad joke (it all comes from over-sugared mixes), Korean pastries are pale, spongy copies of French ones, and the wallpaper paste that the Japanese and Chinese make out of red beans might appeal to them, but we find its best usage is holding down roof tiles. And those slushies that some upscale Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese joints throw at you at the end of the meal are just odd, chunky imitations of something the Greeks perfected 2,500 years ago.

Face it: Asians don’t get sugar. Not like the French do. Or the Italians. Or the Germans. They don’t really have a sweet tooth. But we don’t hold that against them. In fact, it’s one of the many reasons we crawl up and down Spring Mountain Road every week — we always know that wherever we chow down on this most chow-downable of streets, we’ll save ourselves a thousand calories by skipping dessert every time.

In Part 3 of Where I’ll Dine in 2018 we will explore what’s left of Strip dining that still gets us excited. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with some thoughtful words from George Orwell about critical writing and the abandonment of standards. (He was writing about book critics, but the regression to the mean (and mediocrity) holds true for restaurants and restaurant writing as well.):

It is almost impossible to mention restaurants in bulk without grossly overpraising the great majority of them. Until one has some kind of professional relationship with restaurants, one does not discover how bad the majority of them are. In much more than nine cases out of ten the only objectively truthful criticism would be “This restaurant is worthless”, while the truth about the reviewer’s own reaction would probably be “This restaurant does not interest me in any way, and I would not write about it unless I were paid to.” But the public will not pay to read that kind of thing. Why should they? They want some kind of guide to the restaurants they are asked to visit, and they want some kind of evaluation. But as soon as values are mentioned, standards collapse. – with apologies to George Orwell

 

 

 

EATING LAS VEGAS 2018 Hits the Shelves

It’s here; it’s all mine; and it’s much more than just a restaurant guide.

Twenty-five years of my life have gone into this book, as have over twelve thousand restaurant meals in Las Vegas alone. Add another 10k or so of meals in the previous decades and you get way north of 20,000 when you start counting up how many times I’ve sat down in a restaurant. (ELV – the man, the myth, the inveterate epicure – scoffs when he hears other food writers brag about reviewing restaurants for “years” or through “thousands of meals.” Scoffs, I say.)

This book is a lot different than the previous five editions. All 52 “essential” joints were visited by me within the past year, sixteen worthy places leapt into our top 52, and two-thirds of all the reviews are either brand new or freshly re-written. All sorts of tasty tidbits are also peppered throughout the pages, for your edification, contemplation and delectation.

Six new chapters introduce the book, ranging from the pros and cons of the Las Vegas restaurant scene (pro: comfort, accessibility; con: how casino comps ruin everything), to the glories of dining alone, to our disgust with celebrity chefs and the people who worship them.

Along the way, you’ll also find a brand new Bottom 10 (example: “SW Steakhouse – Are you the sort that likes gargling with razor blades while electric shocks are applied to your genitals? Then you’ll probably enjoy perusing this wine list, then paying the straight-up-your-fundament tariff.”), as well as a host of hot new places to visit in Chinatown. For dessert, we feature an epilogue as well as a lengthy description of my perfect meal — because people are always asking me, and I thought it high time I put it on paper.

If you’re interested in eating out in Las Vegas, you should buy it. If you like to eat in restaurants generally, you probably should buy it too.

Now, here’s the important part: where to buy it.

Simple. Just click on the link below and you’ll get the best deal (52 delicious reviews, and more opinions than you can count for the price of a cocktail) and the fastest shipping. Bon appetit and Merry Christmas!

2018 Eating Las Vegas