What’s For Lunch?

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The power lunch is dead, says the media. Everyone eats alone at their desks now, the internet proclaims. Midday meals in restaurants are an endangered species, is the perceived wisdom.

Soooo….is a proper sit-down lunch in Las Vegas as obsolete as Wayne Newton?

Well, yes and no.

Having just returned from weeks in New York and Paris, I can tell you that the restaurants there are full at noon, and the haute cuisine palaces are a tough ticket on most days at those times. Most of the best restaurants in these cities have lunch hours (especially in Paris), and dejeuner is when the gourmets come out to play.

In these gastronomic capitals I am in my element — a kid in a candy store, or a pig in slop, if you will — I can eat the best restaurant cooking on earth and have the afternoon to walk it off. How groovy is that?

Las Vegas is a different kettle of fish however, as thousands of tourists create their own kind of midday meal boom. Here, the noon hour is when many of them are waking up…or roaming a convention hall.  Because of this, many of our best restaurants are closed for lunch —  the thinking being that tourists are either sleeping, shopping or too hungover to be bothered. Hard to argue with that.

Thus are the lunchtime pickings slim unless you’re in the right hotel, or close to downtown, or within a chopstick of Chinatown. Out in the ‘burbs it’s positively depressing, as almost nothing but franchised food exists to satisfy your afternoon cravings.

But if you’re looking for a good lunch you’ve come to the right place, pilgrim, because yours truly is the king of the midday meal. My 3-hour liquid lunches are legendary, and even if I’ve cut back on those over the years, the best places to grab a plate of tasty vittles are always on my radar when those hunger pangs strike around 11:30 am each day.

For the sake of this post, I’m going to divide my lunches into two categories: power lunches and foodie favorites. The first is for those quiet business meetings that are always more digestible in a nice setting. The second are establishments (some more exotic than others) where the food takes precedence over the decor. Put another way: the first group is where I go for my big deal meals, and the second is where I eat everyday.

Obviously, these lists are not exhaustive, but together they give you a snapshot of where I, the world’s greatest midday feinschmecker, eats (or tries to eat) when the sun is highest in the sky.

Power Lunching

Image(Do this at Cipriani and you’re allowed to keep drinking)

Cipriani – The day it opened it was the place to be for meetings or just munching on some of the best pastas in town.

Capital Grill – A chain steakhouse but a great one, with white tablecloths, good service and nice lunch specials.

Ferraro’s – Movers and shakers aplenty populate these tables at noon. Most of them are too busy with business to notice how good the food is.

Image result for Old Soul las Vegas(Shhhh…don’t tell my wife)

Old Soul (above) – Quiet, secluded, a bit dark and very cozy —  the perfect place to conduct a hush-hush meeting (or an affair) — although some of us prefer to concentrate on Natalie Young’s fried oysters and superlative soups.

Eiffel Tower Restaurant (at top of page) – Dinner is packed with young couples celebrating their starter marriages. Lunch is calmer and less delusional.

Delmonico – Great steaks, luxurious surroundings, an awesome burger, and a world-beating wine list make for a hushed, elegant midday repast. It’s never crowded and the food tastes the same as dinner…only the prices are easier to swallow.

Top of the World – Way too touristy for anyone who isn’t a tourist, and the food isn’t in the same league as the view, but the view is spectacular.

Morel’s – Morel’s flies under the radar, but it’s my first choice when a group of hungry guys ask me where they should chow down.

Spago – Beautiful setting; fabulous food; lots of dudes in suits.

Image(Who needs food?)

Marche Bacchus – Al fresco dining (above) so nice you’re liable to forget yourself and spend the afternoon drinking bottle after bottle from its wonderful wine list. But enough about me.

Milos – Fresh off the boat fish that doesn’t cost a fortune between 11:30-2:30. Always packed.

Veranda at the Four Seasons – a South Strip staple where the elite meet to eat.

Foodie Favorites

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Mon Ami Gabi – It’s a pain in the ass to get to (unless you’re staying on the Strip), but the steak frites and people watching are worth the walk.

Esther’s Kitchen – Downtown’s favorite lunch spot is too loud at peak times, so go after the gold rush…around 1:00.

EATT – Shhhh, don’t tell anyone, but in some ways I prefer the lighter, healthier fare here to that of its fancier sibling Partage.

Lotus of Siam – It’s easier to get a table at lunch, before the FOMO crowd has descended.

7th & Carson – New chef Sammy DeMarco is set to bring this place into the spotlight.

Image(Shrimply marvelous, at Jaleo)

Jaleo – I sometime forget Jaleo is open for lunch; I’m glad I forget because otherwise I’d be here all the time.

China Mama A steamer full of xiao long bao is just about the perfect noontime nosh.

Carson Kitchen – This downtown pioneer hasn’t lost its fastball.

Mabel’s BBQ – More relaxed at lunch, which also gives you the rest of the day to digest those ginormous platters of smoked meat.

New Asian BBQ Tang Kung Ky – My new go-to for superior dim sum on Spring Mountain Road.

Shang Artisan Noodle – Hand-pulled noodles straight from Taiwan, by way of UNLV (the owner is a graduate).

Image(I like my food in threes)

Trés Cazuelas – The newest spot on my lunch rotation; Angelo Reyes seamlessly combines Latino cuisines in a tiny restaurant that punches way above its weight.

Santos Tacos – Best. Tacos. In. Town. Why do I have to keep telling you these things?

The Goodwich – Sometimes, only one of these hand-tooled sandwiches will do.

Image(I’ll be your huckleberry…as long as you’re Spago’s foie gras ice cream)

 

 

 

ELV at the Crossroads

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What’s that old joke? If you see the fork in the road, take it.

Well, loyal readers, Eating Las Vegas is at a crossroad.

Writing about restaurants seems more than a bit trivial in these troubled times.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of cool new stuff going on.

And a lot of old stuff continues to shine  — like the sides and steak yours truly had at CUT the other night:

One part of me wants to dive in and tell you all about the great meals I’ve had recently at:

Allegro

Chuchote Thai Bistro

Le Cirque

Cafe Breizh

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7th & Carson

The Black Sheep

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Hofbräuhaus (yes, the Hofbräuhaus)

Bazaar Meat

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The aforementioned CUT

Oscar’s Beef, Booze and Broads (yes, Oscar’s Beef, Booze and Broads)

Prosecco

Bardot Brasserie

MB Steak

Ferraro’s

Casa Don Juan (yes, that Casa Don Juan)

Chada Street…and…

Morel’s Steakhouse

…just to name a few.

But my heart is heavy, and the blogosphere ain’t what it used to be.

Tens of thousands of people used to want to read these restaurant reviews, now but a few thousand do. Facebook and Instagram turned everyone into a food blogger (this is not a bad thing), and in so doing, created a world where the audience is small for anything but mindless listicles, gossip and food porn.

My personal theory is that once camera phones got better, around 5 years ago, everyone could see decent pictures of what a restaurant’s food looked like. When that happened, reading about it became a chore for all but the most ardent foodies. In other words, blogs like this had a mass appeal right up until the masses could look at purty pictures to hit their low information threshold. Thus did clickbait like “Top 5 Tacos in Town!” and “David Chang’s Favorite Pizzas!” supplant actually learning about food.

Simple-mindedness is the rule these days, no matter the issue, no matter what the topic. The dumbing down of America extends to subjects as diverse as climate change to politics to sports. No one is diving deep; everything is visceral or the Cliff Notes version. Even the President of the United States.

Speaking of mindlessness, people are being murdered wholesale in our country, and not enough people care enough about that, either. Because you know, freedom. If that’s not enough to sober me right out of restaurant writing, nothing is.

No matter how you slice it, there’s nothing deep about food writing. Food writers, critics, journalists, nutritionists, etc., are all doing different forms of the same thing: imparting information (and opinion) to the public to help it eat better, tastier, healthier food. No rocket science in that. Precious little politics, too. But if you want to learn something, you have to pay attention. Just like in elementary school. And just like elementary school, most students would rather be told the right answer than figure it out for themselves.

Loyal readers, I have grown weary of helping you figure it out for yourselves.

About the only thing that keeps me writing these days is contemplating what is left of the Vegas food writing community should I retire. Years ago, I hoped that the free weeklies would morph into a true voice for our food and restaurant scene. All they’ve morphed into is a platform for b-list bars and restaurants, cocktail features, and barely-written “reviews.” I don’t blame the writers, I blame the editors. They know their audience can hardly read (or barely wants to), so on one level, you can’t blame them.

My previous co-author, Al Mancini, professes not to want to write about restaurants anymore, so the worthless rag he works for has him covering hot topics like “What blue cocktails are made without blue curaçao?” and other such drivel. (Memo to Al Mancini: the world isn’t interested in “cocktails of the week,” only the people pushing them are.)

Max Jacobson, god bless him, will never re-join the food writing ranks, and my other former co-authors (Greg Thilmont and Mitchell Wilburn) talented though they are, have neither the coin nor the time to immerse themselves in our foodie scene. Eater Las Vegas is a joke (it’s run by a pathetic woman who, when she’s sober, remembers that she lives in Des Moines, Iowa), and no other local blog is worth a shit. So bleak the landscape is.

And bleak I feel about it. I love writing, and I love going to great restaurants. Combining those two passions in this blog, six books, and 23 years of reviews for radio, TV, guidebooks, ‘zines, and  dozens of periodicals has been a match made in heaven for me. No one has ever covered the restaurants of Las Vegas like I have over the past two decades. No one else is even close. All the food writers in town put together aren’t even close. On average, I eat out more in a week than all of them do in a month.

Am I bragging? Sure I am, but it’s also true, and it’ll be a long time before any food writer comes close to what I’ve done. And I’m proud of it.

But while the body might be willing, the spirit is weak. Sometime next month the sixth edition of EATING LAS VEGAS The 52 Essential Restaurants will be published. Those 52 restaurants (yes, two more this year!) are all mine this time. No co-authors, no dueling reviews. You will get my complete, unvarnished look at the best this town has to offer, plus a snapshot or two about where we fail as a food and restaurant town.

These are the same things I’ve been trying to do on this web site since April 1, 2008, and in various forms since October 15, 1995, when I debuted on Nevada Public Radio. I don’t know if the book will continue after this edition, but I’m fairly certain this web site will post its last toothsome pick, or eviscerating pan, on its tenth anniversary, April 1, 2018.

Until then, bon appétit!

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FERRARO’S Italian Renaissance

(ELV loves this pic cuz he thinks it’s artsy)

ELV — the man, the myth, the inveterate Italianate — has eaten in Ferraro’s more times than he can count. His first meals there — at the west Flamingo location — were probably when chef Mimmo Ferraro was in short pants. He has eaten at Ferraro’s in its pre-great wine list phase, in its “the-only-good-Italian-restaurant-in-town” phase, through its pink neon phase and through its “let’s-get-closer-to-the-Strip” phase. ELV has seen Ferraro’s through so many phases you would think it was one of his unruly children.

Continue reading “FERRARO’S Italian Renaissance”