Free Man In Paris – Part Deux

Image(Le Pont Neuf)

Paris is chock full of cutting-edge eateries with hot young chefs, willing to mix culinary metaphors willy-nilly to put their stamp on la cuisine Francaise. These gastro-bistros are all the rage in the age of Insta, but because of it, some of them can be painfully difficult to book. No disrespect, but at a certain time in your life, you simply do not have it in you to pursue the latest culinary fashion, or endure the indignities of begging for a table.

The last time we fell victim to restaurant-of-the-moment syndrome was a few years ago, when we were told we just had to go to Le Sevran, Le Severo, Spring, and Bistro Paul Bert if we wanted to taste real bistro cooking —  the au courtant pillars of bistronomy all the Instagrammers were raving about. We went (sometimes at great inconvenience – some are far removed from Paris central) and found the cooking generally to be precise and delightful, but not worth the travel or the hype. To be fair, Le Comptoir de Yves Camdeborde and  La Bourse et La Vie  (both in the heart of the city) did live up to their billing, but not so much we would sacrifice our time and self-esteem to eat there.  (cf. La Rotisserie d’Argent – where the food is just as good and reservations are a snap.)

Let’s just say we’re pretty comfortable kicking it old school these days, and after a two-year, Covid-imposed absence, we were more in the mood for old haunts than new discoveries.

LE GRAND COLBERT

Image(Gorgeous at any hour)

One battle you will have to fight on your first few days in Paris is adjusting your appetite to the time zone. Hunger always seems to strike us in late afternoon, when Paris affords few options for a full, gastronomic meal. You may be starving and exhausted at 5:00 pm, but the French are still two-to-three hours away from even thinking about dinner. Popping into one of the ubiquitous cafés is always an option, but the better choice is to find one of the great brasseries (Ma Bourgogne, Lipp, Bouillon Chartier, Pharamond, to name but a few), in which to quell those pangs at surprisingly modest prices compared to the grand surroundings in which they are charged.

As brassieres go, they don’t come much grander than Le Grand Colbert —  a Right Bank institution (since 1900) — which we approached at 5:30 pm,  ravenous and ready to gnaw an arm off, even though the sign said it didn’t open until 6:00. As we turned away, ready to concede defeat, a voice wafted from the doorway in that sing-song-y cadence so beautifully employed by French women. “Bonjour Monsieur et Madame. I saw you walk by a few minutes ago. Yes, we are open.”

Image(Monsieur, thees way, s’il vous plait!)

Within seconds we were whisked to a corner booth in the eye-popping, Art Nouveau space and had menus in our hands. At this hour, only a skeleton crew was holding down the fort, and a young French couple were the only other diners basking in its Belle Époque splendor — by equal parts spacious, romantic, dramatic, and cozy. No mean feat that. But the tuxedo-ed waiters treated us like we were regulars, and within minutes we were being happily sated.

Image(Skate it from me: this ray of hope capered our day)

The menu is as comfortable as the design is spectacular. Nothing fancy, just French comfort classics like blanquette de veau, smoked salmon with blinis, Breton skate wing (swimming in butter) with capers (above), and the ever-present Ile Flottante (below), which we could eat every day…and almost did! We polished these off with an alacrity that probably confirmed a few stereotypes to our hosts, but they served everything in good cheer to a couple of famished, appreciative Americans. A half-carafe of house Sancerre rounded things out, and it was as satisfying a meal as we could’ve hoped for at that hour. (All of it coming to 131 well-spent Euros.)

 
Image(Floating island floats our boat)

Le Grand Colbert wears its casual elegance the way only a one-hundred and twenty-two year old Parisian icon can. It is one of those places where everyone looks great bathed in its golden glow, and you can just as easily envision people dressed to the nines there as you can a bunch of businessmen or a mysterious couple pursuing an affaire de coeur. But there’s nothing stuffy about it, the service is sincere, and the cooking keeps everyone happy, whether you’re a local or an esurient tourist looking for a plate of honest grub. Restaurants like this simply do not exist in the United States. They are one of the great treasures of France, and reason enough, all by themselves, to hop a plane across the pond.

Le Grand Colbert

2 Rue Vivienne 75002

+33 1 42 86 87 88

LE GRAND VEFOUR

Image(Once, my happy place)

As you can see, we’re a sucker for historic French restaurants — the older the better. In that regard, they do not come much older than Le Grand Vefour — which has been serving food in one form or another from its corner of the Palais Royale since 1784. There is something so bewitching, historic and lovely about the interior of this grande dame that is almost impossible not to fall in love with it. And in love with it we have been, since we first ate there in 1995.

In fact, it was John Mariani’s own recommendation — read in Esquire magazine — that led us to this jaw-dropping icon over a quarter century ago. We sat in a booth where once Colette held court, right next to where Napoleon and Josephine used to park themselves. Over the years we have been multiple times, and it always seemed like we were dining at the spiritual home of French cuisine when we walked through the doors.

Image(Minimalism got guillotined in 1793)

To me, Vefour has always been the complete package: elegance, historical, from the gleaming antique mirrors to the lush velvet booths, to the service synchronized to Guy Martin’s cuisine: modern in concept, classic in execution, with enough oblique angles and surprises (he’s a wizard with vegetables) to keep you interested. It all worked with the precision of an exquisite jewel box.

The long-suffering Food Gal, had heard me rave about LGV so many times she insisted we make it our first “big deal meal” in Paris. Both of us assumed these restaurants would be over their Covid hangover and back to normal, by and large, most were. From the modest cafes to the grandest palaces, aside from checking our Covid passes, everything felt just as as comfortable as 2019.

Except here.

Nope, here everything was palpably different. The only thing that rang true was the look of the place — not even a pandemic can undo two hundred years of over-the-top, Louis Quatorze decor.

Our first sign of discomfort came from the shockingly shrunken wine list, more befitting a bistro than the grande dame of Parisian dining. The one they offered was a mere wisp of the hefty text we had perused two years ago. Imagine expecting a dictionary and being handed a magazine and you’ll appreciate our discombobulation.

When we inquired of the surly sommelier (once in English, then in French) where the actual, main list was, he pointed to his temple and said dismissively, “Eet eez all up here.” Mr. Happy never cracked a smile and barely acknowledged us as we thumbed through the dozen or so pages. The list was not without its appeal, and we drank well, but it was obvious from the jump that something was amiss.

Then we looked around the room. It was a mid-week lunchtime, and only two other tables were occupied, and the service crew had shrunken to a handful of casually-dressed waiters — not the tuxedo’d brigade of waiters that had moved through the room with balletic grace in a beehive of activity two years earlier. (Mix. That. Metaphor!)

Then the menus came and they were abbreviated as well. We were consigned to a young, bilingual chap who did his best but seemed out of his depth whenever a simple question was asked. The somm appeared when a bottle was to be opened, and then disappeared to who knows where the rest of the time.

Image(Lovely lobster; superfluous truffes)

The four of us ate well, but the meal was but a shadow of the precision and pomp we remember. Brittany lobster brought all the right pungency notes Homarus Americanus never achieves, but the sweet-sour haunch of wild boar was overwhelmed by a sauce both too sweet and too sour(?). A real head-scratcher, that.  I went all-in on the black truffle lunch of 120 euros… it wasn’t worth it. (This from a Guy Martin fan-boy who would’ve gladly paid double for any of his previous meals.)

Image(Truffle salad, not worth the tariff)

The salad peaking beneath a festoon of sliced tubers was pedestrian; the truffles had no punch, and the dressing brought nothing to the party. 

Most everything else was functional but forgettable. The best thing we tasted were the black-truffled mashed potatoes (below), because the black ones need to be cooked in order to properly strut their stuff, and it was the only dish that bothered.

Image(Black truffles at their best)

The three-course prix fixe of 58 euros is a steal, but on the whole, the food felt slapdash rather than refined. Certainly nowhere near the level of Michelin stars we had come to expect.

And then there was the cheese problem — by which we mean the lack of cheese problem — which was the last thing we expected in this temple of gastronomy.  Before we explain, please allow a slight digression.

Yours truly looks forward to the cheese carts in fine French restaurants the way a five-year old anticipates Christmas. Les cartes des fromages are one of the gastronomic glories of France, a reason all by themselves to fly there. By the time our trans-continental flight lands, my chops are already well-licked, and honed to a (cheese) knife’s edge of anticipation.

I attack a Michelin-starred cart with unbridled passion and shameless salaciousness: “Will I gorge myself on Brie so fresh it tastes straight from the udder? Or look to an aged Beaufort shot through with butterscotch-tinged umami? Or perhaps confine myself to a eye-watering Reblochon, a ripe Roquefort, or some obscure goat shapes with bloomy rinds resembling crushed white velvet?”

These are the thoughts dancing in my head as we approach the front door of Le Grand Vefour — as nervously excited as a child entering a candy store.

But not in 2022, mes amis. Not at this lunch. Believe it or not, there was no cheese cart. No luscious wheels of Camembert tempting me, no mighty cylinders of ivory-colored Fourme d’Ambert, no esoteric, nutty Alpines, zero chance to tuck into a type of uncompromising, unpasteurized cheese you’ve never heard of.  In a restaurant that has existed as a showplace for haute cuisine…for 238 years! — we were told by the disconsolate somm: “the chef will select the cheeses for you” — which, to a turophile is about as compelling as having someone pick your porn.

A plate of four was presented, all were fine, but that’s not the point.

Image(Breaking up is so very hard to do)

By the time the desserts rolled around, Monsieur Sourpuss had left the mop-up duties to his young charge. The place was empty and our spirits had curdled harder than a broken Béarnaise. Later in our trip, we shared our disappointment with a famous chef. “I heard they were turning it into a brasserie,” he said with a smirk and one of those Gallic shrugs. He didn’t know it, but his words sounded the death knell of our twenty-seven year love affair with this restaurant.

Which, like most affairs, ended not with a bang but a whimper…and a sigh.

Our dejeuner pour deux came to 480 euros.

Le Grand Vefour

17 Rue de Beaujolais 75001

+33 1 42 96 56 27

LES CLIMATS

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Like many of the restaurants this trip, Les Climats has become an old favorite, even though we can’t tell you very much about the place. To be honest, even after three trips here, I don’t know what the joint looks like.  Truth be told, I haven’t paid much attention to the food either, although my friends tell me it is excellent and my plate always seems to be cleaned. This is because our eyeballs rarely divert from the wine list, and our prodigious proboscis is usually too deep in a glass.

Image(These sardines are an example of the excellent food at Les Climats about which we know very little)

Apparently the design is a good example of Paris’ arts-and-crafts aesthetic, but paying too much attention to such folderol will only serve to divert you from the real point of this place: to explore the greatest Burgundy wine list north of Auberge du Pot d’Etain.

Image(Wine cards in Paris take many forms, some of which can be taken to the gym)

Over 300 winemakers are represented, in a cellar of 28,000+ bottles. “Les paradis des Vins de Bourgogne,” say owners Denis Jamet and Carole Colin, and that pretty much nails it.

It is a list which is a Burghound’s dream come true — a  carte des vins organized according to village, producer, vintage and vineyard. (The term “les climats” refers to the various terroirs, i.e., climates of Burgundy where the grapes are grown.) You can’t nerd out much more on wine than diving into these pages, and the astonishing collection will keep even the most arrogant grapenut occupied for an entire meal.

But enough about me.

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Our technique for choosing a bottle is well nigh perfect and we’ve yet to be disappointed with the results. It consists of studying the hefty tome with the solemnity of a Talmudic scholar parsing the Dead Sea Scrolls, then fretting and fussing over the wealth of choices before us…. and then giving up. With gleeful resignation, we motion the sommelier to our side,  and stab at one of the 465 pages with a plaintive look in our eye while indicating a general price point. On cue (this is not his first rodeo), the  sommelier smiles at our defeat at the hands of the weapon he wields and makes a joke about how overwhelming it can be. He then says something like, “Mais oui, monsieur, I theenk we can find for you some-zing you will love.” Invariably, a fantastic bottle arrives, slightly underneath my budget and far above my expectations.

Neither a grand café, nor a classic brasserie, nor a gourmet palace, Les Climats occupies a middle ground in the firmament of Paris dining. The food is haute but not haughty; the rooms are pleasant but not baroque; and the settings are proper but not showy. Service is attentive but not intensive care, and the customers more casual and local than you’ll find at the “worth a special trip” addresses. It may have a Michelin star, but as I cruise into my golden years, I care less and less about such things. You will eat and drink very well here, and feel like a Parisian while doing so. If there’s a better place to drink Burgundy in Paris, I haven’t heard of it. 

Image(Curd, glorious curds)

BTW: they also had a cheese cart of impeccable pedigree, and a waitstaff who knew their curds. Take that, Le Grand Vefour!

Dinner can get to 150 euros/pp in a blink, and even with bargain Burgundy (by American standards), your wine tariff will exceed 50% of the bill.

Our dinner, including several trophy bottles, came to 671 euros. I have never been here for lunch, but like most better Paris restaurants, they offer a prix fixe three-course bargain (56 euros).

Les Climats

41 Rue de Lille 75007

=33 1 58 62 10 08

ImageParis is always a good idea – Audrey Hepburn)

 

Lunching Las Vegas

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Yours truly is a world-class luncher. Dejeuner makes my day. I revel in my midday repasts like Andrew Cuomo hovering over a female cheek.

Lunch is when my appetite shines — senses are keenest, taste buds sharpest, and my bonhomie in its fullest flower. If breakfast is only good for thinking about lunch, then lunch does its best work by making you forget about dinner. And couldn’t we all do with a little less of the latter?

I didn’t always think this way. Back in the day I indulged in fabulous feasts lasting deep into the night. My first Michelin 3-star meal (at Le Grand Vefour in the early 90s) started before 8 pm and didn’t finish until after midnight. My early excursions to Paris, New York, ‘Frisco, Lyon, Rome and Milan were filled with 8 o’clock dinner reservations at nothing but the toniest supper spots.

But time passes and what once seemed exotic now feels tedious. My upcoming trips to Europe will concentrate on where to get the best midday meal, mostly with locals, not a bunch of tourists with more money than manners, whooping it up after dark.

But I digress.

We are here to discuss midday meal suggestions…but permit me another small digression before getting to those.

Lunch is an urban invention. Back in the day (way back in the day), the midday meal was the biggest – when you ate the most (after a hard morning’s labor), and giving you sustenance for an afternoon of grueling work.

The actual word “lunch” stands for a small something you can hold in one hand, kind of like half a sandwich, or David Chang’s brain.

As people became less agrarian, the middle meal kept moving to later in the day. By the nineteenth century, according to this historian, after the invention of electricity, all the proper English were “dining” after 5:00, so copycat Americans followed suit. Thus, with such hoity-toity pretensions (along with the rise of the industrial working classes) eating at noon moved from being our main fuel to being merely a pit stop in the daily rat race. Pity.

‘Tis sad because lunch – and by “lunch” we mean a proper, sit-down lunch – is the best time of the day to gather yourself, reflect on a morning’s hard work, and gird your loins for whatever action lies ahead. Not to be crude (okay, to be crude), but sex on a full stomach is as much fun as running the high hurdles with hemorrhoids.

Gluttony and fucking are as incompatible as chocolate and cheese. Exhibit A: Have you ever heard of anyone getting laid after a huge Thanksgiving dinner? (I REST MY CASE.)

I mean who even thinks about bumping uglies after taking down six jumbo shrimp, three dinner rolls, a bleu cheese wedge, a giant rib eye, potatoes au gratin, two bottles of wine and three desserts at a late supper? (PROVE ME WRONG!)

Stuffing yourself after dark is sheer lunacy. It also makes you fat. Something the good ole Romans understood two thousand years ago:

“[Romans]….believed it was healthier to eat only one meal a day…They were obsessed with digestion and eating more than one meal was considered a form of gluttony. This thinking impacted on the way people ate for a very long time.”Caroline Yeldham

Maybe that’s why I’m at Cipriani every Friday, chowing down on one simple, spectacular lunch after another:

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End of history lesson.

Las Vegas isn’t a lunch town. Few towns are these days. Bureaucrats eat at their desks, real estate types are driving around all day, lawyers are nailed to their computers, and casino execs do nothing but fret into their phones. With no white collar infrastructure to sustain a proper lunch environment, the pickins are slim when it comes to eating well at noon.

But do not despair mon ami, lunch is not a total loss. There are dining gems buried amongst the fast food zircons. You just need to know where to look.

And not to brag (okay to brag) but I probably eat better lunches than anyone in town.

So here they are, my highly vetted, very personal list of the best place for a midday meal in Las Vegas, with commentary, of course.

Crème de la Crème

Image(Friday vibes)

Note: Many, many places that used to open for lunch on the Strip are now closed. (This includes some former favorites like Spago, Jaleo, Delmonico, Bouchon, et al.) Good luck finding a decent sit-down midday meal in any big hotel…which is one of the reasons for this post.

Brera/Matteo’s – these sister spots have some of the best pizzas and pastas in town. Matteo’s downstairs at the Venetian is the quieter alternative, without music so loud you can’t hear yourself eat. Some of the pies upstairs at Brera will take your breath away, but fuggidabat any conversation until the stupid cruise ship music takes a break.

Brezza – for the time being, Nicole Brisson’s showplace is a 7 day lunch and dinner affair. Her extraordinary pastas need no introduction, and she even does an outstanding burger:

Image(BREZZA’s boffo burger)

(Update: As we predicted two weeks ago, BREZZA has now“postponed lunch” after serving it for less than a month. We knew it was too good to be true)

Cipriani – I eat here every week for a reason.

Capital Grille – the best chain steakhouse. Good steaks, great service, fabulous view. Some of the meat is standard issue, and the menu never changes, but it is huge and cozy at the same time (no mean feat that), and gals love it. Also good for business meals.

Milos – love it or hate it, but the Venetian has more decent midday meal options than any Strip hotel. It also now has our premier Greek seafood restaurant. Not quite the lunch bargain it used to be, but still a deal. Fabulous fish.

Marche Bacchus – still soothing after all these years. Still a wonder of wine and the best al fresco in the ‘burbs.

Wally’s – our newest fine wine/destination dining spot might have the best prices in town for expensive fermented grape juice. The store is a bargain hunter’s dream — if your idea of a bargain is getting a (normally) $400 bottle for two bills. Chef Eric L’Huillier is in charge of the kitchen, and is in imminent danger of turning this place into Las Vegas’s greatest French steakhouse.

Downtown’s Fabulous Food Faves

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Note: I work in downtown Las Vegas, and live two miles from my office, so you could say I eat out here All. The. Time. I eat out so much in DTLV I get bored with most of these — not because they’re not good, but because I’ve memorized the menus.

Carson Kitchen – still humming after seven years. Small menu; superb service.

DE Thai Kitchen – anything off the secret menu (which ain’t so secret) is great. So is the stuff not on the secret menu, like this incendiary green papaya salad:

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EAT. – get there early for one of Nat Young’s soul-satisfying breakfasts, serious sandwiches, and huevos motulenos.

8East – not so convenient unless you’re staying in the Circa hotel, but Dan Coughlin’s food is worth searching out.

Esther’s Kitchenwait for it…wait for it…this place is so crowded no one goes here anymore.

Letty’s – tacos, tacos y mas tacos!

Saginaw’s Deli – I love Paul Saginaw’s food, but there’s only so much deli my waistline can take.

7th & Carson – There is nothing surprising on the menu (except the stellar “Irish Breakfast”), but every time I eat here I walk away impressed by the execution.

Soulbelly BBQ – the No.1 barbecue in town and it isn’t even close. Excellent, out-of-the-ordinary sauces and one of our best burgers, too.

Chinatown

Image(Wai and Connie, still going strong at Big Wong)

Note: Chinatown (both the original on Spring Mountain Road and the new one popping up on South Rainbow) are their own thing. Most joints are open for lunch and dinner and everything in-between. Here are a few favorites, but there are dozens more where you can’t go wrong.

Big Wong – if bang for the buck was the only criteria, this Chinatown mainstay would be the best restaurant in town.

Chanko Shabu & Izakaya – swish swish your way to above average izakaya fare in a dark, clubby setting.

China MaMa – our best Chinese restaurant. That’s all there is to say.

Curry Zen – The Food Gal’s® fave, for good reason. Simple rice, Japanese curry, and a few gyoza are just the thing when you need to munch and run.

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District One – Let’s go get the oxtail soup (above), she says, and we willingly comply, even if we’re there for the Vietnamese carpaccio.

Lamaii – open for lunch, even on weekends. Top flight Thai. Incredible wine list priced to sell.

New Asian BBQ & Noodle – the second best dim sum in town (after Rainbow Kitchen).

Shanghai Taste – the best xiao long bao until someone proves to me otherwise:

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Shang Artisan Noodlenot actually in Chinatown, but that’s how we’re listing it. Extraordinary soups.

Rainbow Kitchen – giving China MaMa a run for its dumplings in the Chinese food supremacy department.

Rincon Buenos Aireswe forgot about RBA until we popped in for lunch a month ago. We had also forgotten about how piquant their chimichurri sauce is, and how the “lomo completo” sandwich (below) is one of the best meat and carbo loads ever:

Image(Complete with meat that’s tough to beat)

Weera Thai Kitchen – speaking of piquant: it’s tough to beat this en fuego menu of Thai street classics. Not for gringos and that’s the way we like it.

Outliers of Excellence

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Note: These are not exactly convenient unless you live near their ‘hood, but if you do, you should be ducking in to one for a midday bite on a regular basis.

Jamon JamonI don’t know what behooves Rafael Salines Catalá to stay open weekdays for lunch but I’m damn glad he does.

Image(Hot diggity Danish!)

Saga Pastry + Sandwich – is finally unshackled by Covid restrictions, and is hitting its stride with Scandinavian open-faced sandwiches and a Danish hot dog to beat the band. Those tiny shrimp alone are worth the trip to Henderson.

The Legends Oyster Bar & Grill – opened in the midst of the pandemic, in a weird-ass location with failure written all over it. Hopes are higher for this incarnation — the seafood is just too damn good. Classy/funky little build-out, too (sea above).

Win Kee Hong Kong Noodle & BBQ – Chinese ‘cue, soups and seats that make you think you’re in a Hong Kong alleyway. Criminally cheap, too.

>>>>>>>>><<<<<<<<

So why am I such a lunch lush these days? Some of it has to do with age and digestion — I find big evening meals simply don’t sit that well with my iron stomach, and can impinge on a good night’s sleep, even without wine.

Secondly, when I travel, I’ve found the great dining destinations of Europe to be friendlier, cheaper, and easier to access for the midday meal. Even a three hour repast at some destination dining palace leaves you plenty of time to walk it off and see the sights.

In Vegas, quite frankly, dinner on the Strip bores me. Have you tried parking there recently? MGM properties are the worst and Caesars isn’t far behind. Valet now costs $25+ at most hotels, and even on weeknights, getting in and out of the garages on the south Strip is a pain in the ass. (It was a pain in the ass even in the best of times, but at least it was free.)

Since 1998, I probably haven’t gone 4 weeks without stopping into the Bellagio. Now, I haven’t been in 6 months and still don’t see any reason to return.  What’s the point? To watch drunk day-clubbers stagger around?

The only reason to hit Caesars is Restaurant Guy Savoy. (Who exactly gets a boner over Bobby Flay doing Italian these days? No gastronome I know.) The shitshow that is Mandalay Bay? Are you kidding me? All the good places in these former dining destinations are either closed, on the rocks, or open for dinner, “Thurs-Sun 5 pm-10 pm.” Yeesh.

There’s a reason you find me these days hanging out at the Venetian/Palazzo, Wynn/Encore, and Resorts World and those reasons are: welcoming environment(s), ease of access, and most of all, good food…available at noon.

See you at lunch.

Image(See what you’re missing by eating at your desk?)

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