Paris (et Italia) Je t’aime!

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I may have grown to loathe Michelin and all that it stands for, but France will always have a special place in my heart. As will Italy.

That’s where I’ll be for the next two weeks (after a weekend in D.C.) because that’s where I go when I want great food with no attendant bullshit…bullshit being the main thing defining restaurant culture in America these days.

Whether it’s Michelin, the James Beard Foundation, Instagram, or Yelp, the restaurants throughout America have become like a bunch of slobbering dogs barking for attention. Everyone’s on the make; everyone wants “recognition,” and simply cooking good food for clients who enjoy it has become secondary to the endless chase for publicity.

And it’s exhausting (even for an old pro like me) to see the constant social media bombardment.

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So I’m off to Paris and northern Italy for a while, and here’s why I’m going:

the food is better

the wine is better

the great wines are cheaper

the great restaurants have become a bargain

almost everyone speaks at least a little English these days

people are friendly, even in Paris (the supposed snootiness of the French is a relic of the 1950s)

Google maps makes navigation (by car or foot) a breeze

you can sit all day in a cafe and no one bothers you

every chef in the country isn’t trying to be famous

wine bars are everywhere

drinking coffee in Italy is one of life’s great pleasures

eating pastries in France is almost better than sex

two words: unpasteurized cheese

the people-watching in both is spectacular

most of the great restaurants (and many casual ones) are not allergic to linens

you can spend a three hour lunch debating where you’re going to have a four hour dinner and no one looks twice at you

in between meals you can take a two hour walk that seems like 20 minutes

there’s always something to see

there’s never any music in restaurants

and did I mention the salumi and charcuterie?

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Europeans have a closer connection to their food — a passionate relationship that Americans can only dream of.

You can feel it when you walk the streets, you can smell it everywhere.

America was, and always will be, about chasing a buck. The artisanal dedication of European chefs may be fading in the digital age, but the cultures (of Italy and France) still revere food and cooking on a much deeper level than we do. Here, it’s all about getting an award, or getting on TV so you won’t have to slave away at the stoves anymore. In other countries, slaving away at the stoves is a lifelong calling. They don’t have the luxury of a (potential) escape hatch and empire-building like America affords its success stories, so people spend a lifetime perfecting a dish, or a sushi slice, or creating a quintessential experience. It’s drudgery sure, but it’s also pure.

I have found those quintessential experiences many times in western Europe — sometimes in a cathedral of fine dining, and sometimes in a dark little wine bar — and I’m going back in search of more.

So I’ll see you in a few weeks.

In the meantime, feel free to follow me on Twitter or Instagram if you have a hankering to see what I’m up to across the pond.

Bon appetit!

Buon gusto!

And remember: Michelin is bullshit.

2017 – My Year of Dining Deliciously

The end of 2017 is nigh, and all kidding aside, it’s been one of the best years of my life — personally, professionally, and gastronomically.

All those troubles of the past 20 years: the relationship troubles, the career problems, the financial difficulties and the overindulgence in various vices seemed to fade away this year — and many, many positive things came into focus for me.

Marriage and maturity will do that to you. (For the record: yours truly is proof positive that you’re never too old to grow up.)

With so many “issues”  disappearing in my rear-view mirror in 2017, it’s time to look ahead. More to the point, now that we’ve grown up, what do we want to do with the rest of our life.

Before we get to that, let’s review some of the highlights of the past 365 days:

We went to Rome for a Roman wine tour. (All that one week in Rome did was whet our appetite for more Italian travel.)

We went to France, twice, which only whetted our appetite for more France.

Amongst all this travel, there were side trips to Canada, Chicago, Atlanta, Arizona, Germany and Switzerland.

In between all that, we even had time to carve out a North Carolina ‘cue quest.

For the 23rd year in a row, we ate in more Las Vegas restaurants than we could count, and distilled them down into the 6th edition of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 52 Essential Restaurants.

(This edition, unlike previous ones, contains a number of essays about my life as a galloping gastronome, as well as some overall observations about the Las Vegas restaurant scene, past, present, and future. If you still haven’t ordered your copy – and you know you want to – you can do so by clicking here.)

For the umpteenth time we wrote the Chef of the Year and Restaurant of the Year articles (among others) for Desert Companion magazine.

For about the 100th time, we went out of our way to remind the world what a piece of shit the Eater Las Vegas web site is.

But enough ax-grinding, let’s get to our year in food. Sadly, most of the highlights took place out of this country, or out of the state of Nevada.

Memorable Meals of the Year (in no particular order):

La Bouitte

Allen & Son

Le Grand Vêfour

Twist by Pierre Gagnaire

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Edulis

La Mère Brazier

Restaurant Eugene

Topolobampo

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Lameloise

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Kaiseki Yuzu

Specific standout dishes/meals of 2017:

Oysters of the YearLe Dôme:

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Photogenic Dish of the Year – Summer fruits salad at Jean-Georges Steakhouse:

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Steak of the Year – the aged-on-the-hoof beauty from TXOGITXU – Basque beef:

Runner up: the Charolais côte de boeuf at Le Sauvage in Dijon, France:

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Japanese Meal of the Year – Kaiseki Yuzu (see above)

Sushi of the YearYui Edomae Sushi:

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Pizza of the YearContento Pizzeria and Bar:

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Vegetarian Meal of the Year – Twist by Pierre Gagnaire (see above)

Deer of the YearWaldhotel Sonnora, Dreis, Germany:

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/disney/images/0/06/Bambi_-_Render.png/revision/latest?cb=20160614120622(Sorry, Bambi)

Beef Bourguignon of the YearRestaurant Caveau des Arches, Beaune, France:

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View of the YearCanoe, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (see pic at top of page)

Decor of the YearLe Clarence:

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sitting, table, living room and indoor(Minimalist and understated, just like ELV!)

Gamiest, Rankest, Earthiest, Dirtiest Dish of the Year – AAAA Andouillette a la Chablisienne:

(It tastes exactly like what it is: the insides of a barely-cleaned intestine.)

Italian Meal of the YearFerraro’s:

(Gino Ferraro: the consummate restaurateur)

Cheese of the Year – a mimolette so old Louis XIV probably sampled a slice:

Barbecue of the Year – Toss up: Picnic/Allen & Son (see above)

Beer of the YearThe Exchange Brewery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario:

Eclair of the YearBreizh Café:

Cheese Cart of the Year – a turophiles dream at Hostellerie Des Clos in Chablis, France.

Wine List(s) of the YearLe Pot d’Etain:

Runners up: Les Climats:

…and La Bouitte:

Image may contain: 1 person(Wine lists are a two-fisted handful at La Bouitte)

Vegetable Dish of the Year – Winter vegetable melange at La Bouitte:

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Fish of the Year – no fish dish haunted my dreams more than this omble chevalier at a little roadside restaurant outside of Annecy, France called Auberge du Roselet:

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Cold Cuts of the YearCesare Casella’s artisanal prosciutto at Carnevino:

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Most Intense Dessert of the YearSebastien Polycarpe’s clay-baked pineapple at Restaurant Guy Savoy:

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Bistro of the Year – Le Comptoir du Relais, Paris, France:

Coffee and Doughnuts of the YearTim Hortons:

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Yes, it was a helluva year for sheer travelocity and intrepid epicureanism. But amidst all the gourmet jewels, there were some zircons that stood out. and managed to pee in our cornflakes

Lowlights of the Year:

Alinea – To put it as succinctly as possible: Anyone who appreciates the gastronomic temples of Europe can see what a joke this restaurant is. Strictly for Midwestern rubes and impressionable Instagrammers,  and the writers who speak to them.

Momofuku – I love what David Chang has done for Asian food in America. But his restaurants are not nearly as good as they think they are.

Terrible Italian – Bad Italian food continues to pull ’em in in Las Vegas. If I had a dollar for every yokel who tells me how much they “love” Piero’s, Cafe Chloe, Battista’s, Chicago Joe’s, et al, I’d have a wine cellar full of grand cru Burgundies. It pains me to say it but Maggiano’s and Buca di Beppo are better than most of our locally-owned Italians.

Food writing in Las Vegas – Can the Review-Journal get any worse? Oh, yes it can. It can cover chain restaurants and “cocktails of the week” while continuing to aim its appeal at the Sun City crowd. Someone needs to put this dead horse out of its misery.

Our Moribund Corporate Hotel Culture – This is the thing that depresses me the most. The heyday of the Vegas restaurant revolution ended for good around 2010. What the great celebrity chefs wrought (Spago, Emeril’s, Le Cirque, Picasso, et al) the big hotels are now either running into the ground or milking for all they’re worth. There hasn’t been an original thought in a Vegas F&B office in ten years. There hasn’t been a new, food-forward/chef-driven place since Bazaar Meat opened in 2014. Instead of cuisine, we get whatever re-packaged crap they can slap Gordon Ramsay’s or Giada’s name on. There are still restaurants on the Strip that I adore (and buy my book and you can read about them ;-) ) but I’ve been falling out of love with the Strip for years now, and nothing I see is going to re-kindle the flame of passion I once had anytime soon.

Summer Truffles – If one more chef puts one more tasteless summer truffle on my plate (always with a BIG smile like they’re doing me a favor) I’m going to get a concealed carry permit, strap a .38 to my thigh, and put a bullet through the plate. There is no excuse for these dreaded, bill-padding fungi, and you insult my intelligence (and taste buds) by expecting me to be impressed.

Truffle Oil – See above.

Octopus – If I never see a piece of cephalopod again it will be too soon.

Scallops – Ditto.

Drinking Wine/Drinking in General – I took Carnevino to task this year for its obscenely-priced wine list. It is the most egregious offender, but is by no means alone in playing the rape-the-tourist/price-gouging game — e.g. the Wynncore – an entire hotel whose F&B price structure would make P.T. Barnum blush, and the $30 gin and tonics at Jaleo. In the past 20 years (ever since they learned they could “sell” Vegas and a world-class eating and drinking experience, our hotels have turned the town into one, gigantic edible tourist trap. We should be ashamed of ourselves. I can barely bring myself to order anything but a glass of wine these days….or some cheap vermouth…in any of our Strip hotels. Spend a couple of days in any wine region, anywhere in the world, and you’ll see how fucked up drinking is in Las Vegas.

Which brings me to my conclusion…at the conclusion of this most significant year.

As you know, we’ve been struggling with what to do with this web site for the past year or so. It’s becoming harder and harder for us to get enthused about restaurants I have visited dozens of times, and, as I just mentioned, there isn’t a lot of excitement on the horizon. I try to gear what I write to people like me, or those who may have been like me 30 years ago when I was hungry to learn all I could about food, dining out, travel, and the world of restaurants. I like to think of my readers as a black belt foodie audience, but within the realm of Las Vegas restaurants, there is less and less that I can teach them.

Right now I’m pondering whether to write more about my travels (next up: Spain, Italy, Normandy and Scandinavia), or maybe even expand into home cooking. Unbeknownst to many, I used to be an avid home cook, and people love recipe websites more than they do restaurant reviews. There will definitely be a change in graphics sometime in the new year. (I’m quite aware that the look of this site is cluttered and dated and it’s all my fault.) The new look will be simpler — more Drudge Report than Bon Appetit — as soon as I can find a graphic designer.

Until then….

Happy New Year from the Curtas BBQ Boyz!

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people sitting and sunglasses(Real men toast with white wine.)

 

EIFFEL TOWER RESTAURANT

Ah, La Tour Eiffel. Architectural wonder, monument of Paris.

ELV has eaten at the Jules Verne Restaurant in the real deal (now run by Alain Ducasse), and found it, despite its tourist-trap reputation, to be one of the most awesome and charming places to dine in all of Gay* Paree.

ELV has eaten in the Las Vegas Eiffel Tower Restaurant many times, and has always found it to be something of a tourist trap.

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