Fish Fight: MILOS v. COSTA di MARE

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Las Vegas is to fish what tumbleweeds are to Tahiti.

Seafood and the High Mojave go together like Hawaii and gambling. (If you don’t believe me, just look out the window.)

There’s an old rule of thumb that goes: for every ten miles you move inland, the fish gets ten percent worse.

By this calculation, seafood in Las Vegas should be 150% worse than it is on the coast.

Of course this isn’t true. The miracles of refrigeration and air freight have made fresh (or reasonably fresh) fish a reality no matter how far you are from an ocean. All you need is an airport, and presto change-o! – you can charge prices for a wild-caught turbot that would make a potentate’s knees buckle.

That said, seafood in Las Vegas is still something of a crap-shoot. Much of it is farmed, and too much of it is the same old same old salmon and sea bass in restaurant after restaurant.

But we are blessed with two, world-class, seafood emporiums: Estiatorio Milos and Costa di Mare. Each of them is special in its own way, and together they put to shame the fish being flung at all but our toniest steakhouses and sushi parlors.

Image(Something fishy is going on…will salmon help me order?)

So, as a public service, we at #BeingJohnCurtas thought we’d outline their similarities and differences, to better help you decide where to drop a boat payment the next time you want to swim in the deep end of our best seafood restaurants.

As usual, only the most skillful, precise, and scientific measurements were used to chart the distinctions between the two. And by “skillful and scientific” we mean our own, historically-proven, unchallenged omniscience and infallibility.

Decor

Image(Feng shui in spades)

Milos’s reboot in the Venetian is soothing, dramatic, reminiscent of the Greek Islands, and appetite-inducing. It’s feng shui is so good there should be a picture of it beside every definition of feng shui. Plus, the fish display alone (see above) is worth major design props.

Advantage, Milos, for feng shui and all that tasty fish.

Image(A great place to set the hook, just for the halibut, or on porpoise, if you’re fishing for a gill-friend)

Costa di Mare’s re-launch in the Wynn reopens a space that is by turns eye-popping, comforting, and mouth-watering. As gorgeous as the new room is at Milos, it’s hard to beat the bi-level views and poolside drama of CdM.

Advantage CdM for outdoor dining, romantic lighting and jaw-dropping design.

In other words: Draw

Greeting

At Milos, they treat me like a big shot who owns the place; at CdM, they treat me like the King of Siam. I’ve been comped at both and I’ve paid through the nose at both.

Draw

Service

Image(Oh for cod’s hake, we’ve haddock enough! Stop floundering and choose!)

Intensive care service is the rule at both. Milos is still in its shakedown cruise, so things are a bit wobbly — well-meaning, but not as polished as they will be.

CdM (above) is operating like it never closed in the first place. Both plaices are so solicitous it feels like someone would cut your food, sand dab the corners of your mouth and troll you to your car if you asked them too.

You expect nothing less than consummate professionalism from both operations since two of the smoothest cats in the business (Ivo Angelov and Fabian Forlini) hold down the front of the house — at CdM and Milos, respectively.

You also can’t fault Milos for having to adjust to a huge new space with a brand-new crew, but at this juncture, we’ll award…

Slight advantage, Costa di Mare 

Price

Bring $$$. Lots of it. Seafood this spectacular has gone through quite a journey to get to your table within a single day. What you’re eating Thursday night was probably flopping around on a boat Wednesday morning….6,000 miles away.

A small rouget or racasse (for two) will easily run $150 at either place. A five pound St. Pietro (John Dory) set us back $275 at CdM, but easily fed five. Plan on at least $125/pp minimum. These beautiful scallops at Milos, are $17 apiece, and you’ll want one each…or two.

Image(So good we can’t clam up about them)

Ordinarily, we’d call the price war a draw, but Milos scores an early knockdown with something in its arsenal CdM can’t defend against or counter…..

Lunch

Image(We’re in lavraki)

Milos serves lunch. A great one. And quite a bargain to boot. Its special $36, 3-course dejeuner is justifiably famous as the best lunch deal on the Strip. Yes, there are surcharges on some dishes, but stick with the basic menu (like the gorgeous lavraki above) and you’ll eat a very healthy, very Greek midday repast and feel a little like a thief while you’re doing it.

Costa di Mare: no lunch. This is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions, and thus…

Advantage, Milos

Hours

For the time being, CdM is only open Thurs.-Sun nights. Milos is open 7 days for lunch and dinner.

We’d like to give a point to Milos for being so accessible, but the shutdown of restaurants put them in a no-win situation, so as they re-open, it wouldn’t be fair to judge them harshly on what they have to do to stay afloat. Still…

Advantage, Milos

Bread

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Costa di Mare gets its superior basket of baked goodies from Wynn’s in-house shop. Milos serves its single, toasted, thick nutty slices of sourdough pain de campagne with some of the best olive oil in the biz.

Draw

Appetizers

Both are minimalists. Both let the ingredients sing for themselves. Each does the best langoustines and crab dishes Las Vegas has ever seen. Even with Milos offering the nonpareil “Milos Special”:

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…we ‘re calling it a….

Draw

Seafood Selection

This one is relatively easy: there is no competition with Milos when it comes to a daily variety of fresh fish and seafood. CdM has a beautiful, impeccably chosen but smaller selection.

Advantage, Milos

Bar

Image(Swanky and sexy)

The new bar at Milos is huge and a focal point. It is destined to be a hangout in its own right. CdM bar is smaller and more of a way station for those waiting for a table. Both have impressive collections of pre- and post-prandial booze. I’m not the guy to judge the mixology, but I’ve never had anything less than a stellar cocktail at either.

Draw

Pasta

Image(Uni pasta a la LoRusso)

No contest. Costa di Mare has some of the best Italian pastas you will find in Las Vegas….or anywhere in America for that matter.

Advantage, Costa di Mare

Food/Cooking/Menu

Milos doesn’t know how to improperly cook a piece of seafood. But CdM has serious kitchen talent at the stoves in the form(s) of Mark LoRusso and Daniela Santos.

Milos has tried and true formula which works across the world; CdM is more inventive with its menu and cooking, and its pastas alone are worth a special trip.

Advantage, Costa di Mare

Dessert

Image(We heart Daniela)

Once again, you can’t fault Milos for its tried and true Greek sweets, but CdM has a first-class pastry chef (Santos) in the kitchen.

Image(Berry, berry good)

Advantage, Costa di Mare

Wine

Greek wines go with seafood like mint leaves and lamb. You may not be able to pronounce them (see below), but that’s why they’re so reasonable.

The list at CdM is objectively better, deeper, and broader in its selections. It is also priced for the big boys, not mere mortals. Trying to find a wine bargain at the Wynn is more useless than looking for a ham sandwich at a bar mitzvah, BUT Covid has caused a huge surplus of un-drunk bottles up and down the Strip, so CdM now offers some discounted “Cellar Selections” with softer markups.

Selection – Advantage, Costa di Mare

Price – Advantage, Milos

Wine Service –  Advantage, CdM

Country of Origin – Advantage, Milos (You may disagree, but Greeks were washing down their Χταπόδι (Chtapódi/octopi) with Asyrtiko when the Romans were suckling on the teats of wolves.

Therefore, Draw…unless you’re fishing for big game, in which case you’ll love the Costa di Mare list. If you’re looking for a good bottle at a less predatory-shark price, it’s Milos.

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Let’s Recap:

Wine – Draw

Dessert – Costa

Food/Cooking/Menu – Costa

Pasta – Costa

Bar – Draw

Bread – Draw

Appetizers – Draw

Seafood Selection – Milos

Hours – Milos

Lunch – Milos

Price – Draw

Service – Slight advantage to Costa because of Milo’s new digs

Decor – Draw

Judgment

If you’re scoring, you’ll see a 1 up victory for Costa di Mare by the thickness of a soft shell crab shell:

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However, if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that what looks at first like two similar restaurants are, in fact, two entirely different experiences.

Costa di Mare is a big deal meal Vegas restaurant with all the luxury trappings, right down to the exotic amaros, ports, and digestivos.

Milos is very much like its chef/owner Costas Spiliadis: welcoming, informal, but very serious about its Greek food.

Wherever you find a Milos (from Montreal to Miami) it is always one of the best seafood restaurants in town. It is, by far, the best Greek restaurant within ten miles of the Las Vegas Strip, and you’ll have trouble finding a better one anywhere west of the Mississippi.

Costa di Mare is Italian in focus, a lot more chef-y, and sui generis. If I wanted to impress a date, I’d take her to the Wynn; if I want simple, beautiful fish that tastes like it jumped out of the sea and directly onto my plate, I’ll go to Milos.

No matter where you end up, you won’t regret it, because, and you can sea, both are fin-damentally….wait for it….wait for it… soleful:

Image(Face it, you’re bass-ically hooked on these sofishticated puns)

COSTA di MARE

Wynn Hotel and Casino

3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Las Vegas, NV 89109

702.770.3305

ESTIATORIO MILOS

Venetian Hotel and Casino

3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Las Vegas, NV 89109

702.414.1270

I Once Flew to Paris Just to Have Lunch

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I once flew to Paris just to have lunch

To Paris I went without care, without crunch

I once flew to Paris just ’cause I could

On a plane, on a whim, on the hopes of meals good

To Paris I flew, alone as it were

Leaving the wife to her toils, don’t think me a cur

A fantasy it had been throughout my manhood

To fly just for lunch, thinking I should…

Learn French, eat France, explore all things Gaulois!

My fate I once thought, it wistfully was

Today on this day, I thought of such things

And the swings of good fortune which enabled such flings

To meet Mariani, a gastronome friend

Paris did beckon us fellow curmudgeons

On landing that morn, I rubbed out the sleep

Where I’d dreamed to myself of lambs, ducks and geese

Image(Duck confit with summer vegetables)

To the Ritz as it were, did we travel that day

Where a meal was awaiting the French call déjeuner

The difference you see, is one of degree

For in France you can feast, and here we just feed

A pity it seems, so to France I did fly

To eat like a king and kiss troubles goodbye

How much do you ask, would be this repast?

Expensive it is, too much for mere mortals

But walking is free among these luxe portals

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This is insane, I thought on the Seine

To travel for food so many disdain

But undaunted I was, so to lunch I did go

For dining so fine it sets me aglow

The Ritz is The Ritz, as ritz as they come

As were our courses, one after one

So beautiful they were, elegant, precise

Both John and I could’ve eaten them thrice

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And the bread, oh the bread, for which French are so famous

Rising and baking Français are not aimless

Crusty, yeasty, with softness yet crunch

One travels an ocean to have it for lunch

Image(Pan-fried Dorade with mussel tortellini and artichoke purée)

And while we’re at it, did we mention the fish?

Nowhere on earth, is it found this delish

The French have a way with all things that swim

While America flounders with fins the most grim

Image(Raisin Einset en compotée et sorbet, crème montée et meringue croustillante)

Image(aka grapes in vanilla cream sorbet in meringue crust)

And it goes without saying that desserts reign supreme

Anywhere the French are whipping some cream

The Ritz, as you imagine, is kingly of sorts

When it comes to sorbets, meringues, tarts and tortes.

An art form lunch is, in France like no other

With wine, with cheese, with friends or a lover

I once flew to France just for a feast

On food so sublime all troubles did cease.

Image(Crab “Napoleon” with lobster sauce)

Image(Tomate stracciatella, crémeaux basilic poundré à l’olive noire – but you knew that)

 

 

What’s For Lunch?

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Is a proper sit-down lunch in Las Vegas as obsolete as Wayne Newton?

Well, yes and no.

Las Vegas is a different kettle of fish from other gastronomic destinations. Here, thousands of tourists create their own kind of midday meal boom, and 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 logic.

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 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 every day when the sun is highest in the sky.

Image(Nothing says “power lunch” like a blizzard of white truffles)

POWER LUNCHING

Cipriani – The day it opened it was the place to be for hi-falutin’ meetings, or just to munch on some of the best pastas in town. The top-shelf service is the equal of those noodles, and makes everyone feel like they’re in a Cary Grant movie.

Capital Grill – A chain steakhouse but a great one, with white tablecloths, good service, decent beef, 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.

Old Soul – 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 superb soups.

Image(Icelandic cod “Hong Kong” style at Spago)

Spago – Beautiful setting; fabulous food; lots of dudes in suits. Also lots of terribly dressed tourists. Pay neither any attention and concentrate on your fish dish (above) or a wienerschnitzel straight from Vienna.

Eiffel Tower Restaurant – 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. As with Mon Ami Gabi, it’s harder to get to than a Himalayan ashram, but the payoff is worth it.

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 at noontime.

Marché Bacchus – Al fresco dining 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.

Image(Don’t flounder, clam up, or shrimp from your duties – take your grouper to Milos for lunch )

Estiatorio Milos – Fresh off the boat fish (above) that doesn’t cost a fortune between 11:30-2:30, as long as you stick to the lunch specials (around $30/pp). Always as packed in tight as those fish, so go early or reserve ahead.

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

Image(Sea bass en croute at EATT)

FOODIE FAVORITES

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 crowd of idiot Instagrammers (and those that heard from someone who heard from someone who heard from someone that it was good) has descended.

Image(Pristine and very Japanese)

Raku Sweets – Only open on weekends for lunch, but everything from the potato salad to the omelette to the tomato soup (above) will blow you away. The pastries are in a league of their own.

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

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 (food) fastball. The noise level is deafening, however.

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Mordeo Boutique Wine Bar – Just started opening for lunch a few weeks ago and it’s a killer…with a not-to-be-missed dry-aged burger (above).

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

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

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(Small but mighty – Trés Cazuelas)

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

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

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

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That should get you started, pilgrim. After you’ve hit each of these a few times, let me know and I’ll point you to a few more favorites.