Spanish Inquisition, Part Dos – Madrid

Image(Dinner at 7? What are we, savages?)

If Barcelona was a failed first date that makes you question whether there will be a second, Madrid was an inscrutable beauty who revealed just enough of herself to leave you lusting for more. One week was hardly enough time to get to know her seductive neighborhoods, and hidden delights, and as with her rival city, we barely scratched the surface of her culinary wonders. But, as we do with most large cities when first we experience them, we sought out the new and the old, the better to get a sense of the restaurant scene. But before we dove into the Spanish new wave, we thought it best to start with a sense of history. And aside from Botin (the oldest restaurant in the world, which we will get to), dining in Madrid doesn’t get more historical than at Horcher.

Gustav Horcher started catering to the carriage trade in Berlin in 1904, but a small disagreement between Germany and the entire western world caused him to re-locate to Madrid in 1942. During this little dust-up, Nazis used Spain as a playground, and Horcher became their favorite canteen, retaining its cache (and customers) from its Berlin days, and staying afloat partly due to the largess of the Nazi High Command. After they were Nuremberg-ed, it remained a haunt of the rich and famous, despite the ghosts of some of its more infamous patrons continuing to haunt the premises.

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Not being one to let a little Hermann Göering get between me and some jugged hare, appointments were made for our first dinner in Madrid, and it was a doozy.

A meal as irrepressibly old school as Horcher was just the antidote to the inventive gastropubs and formulaic Catalan food of Barcelona.  Walking in felt like entering a time capsule. The thick linens, baroque place settings, and decor straight from the days of “continental cuisine” felt almost like a stage setting for women in Lillian Russell bustles and men in muttonchops.

The surroundings may have been dripping with old money vibes, but the  tuxedo-ed staff was a mix of old salts and eager youngsters, and from gueridons to the duck presses, you knew you were about to be as coddled as a Faberge egg. Those staff were warm and welcoming, everyone with a twinkle in their eye; and the menu couldn’t have been any less modern if it had a tassel attached to it.

Terrine of goose foie gras kicked things off, as did some “Russian style” marinated salmon. From there it was on to two soups, each superb: a sherry consommé and Consommé “Don Victor” — the latter utilizing a press to extract every bit of beef juices from a couple of roasted cuts.

Artichoke hearts were suffused with mushrooms and lobster, and our main courses ran the gamut from beef Stroganoff in Pommery mustard sauce, to the Horcher hamburger (which single-handedly revives the glories of the “Hamburg” steak) to my “Hare a la Royale” — this version being thick rounds of rabbit sausage, so enriched by blood and wine they should’ve been served with their own tax return.

The pommes soufflé were flawless and the baumkuchen (resembling a small tree of layered pancakes, sliced and served mit shlag), was a showstopper — every bite a study in old world richness matching the setting.

One must be cautious in overpraising Horcher. Its style is about as hip as a pillbox hat, and the menu more geared to the stolid appetites of a German trencherman than to those seeking pointless pointillisms or culinary cartwheels. There are no chef visions at work here, and zero tweezers in use. Only classic recipes rendered with care and top-shelf ingredients. Horcher has been doing the same thing so long it would be easy to dismiss it as a culinary relic, but when the food is this toothsome, the service this precise, and the setting this elegant, you would be denying yourself one of the great restaurant experiences in the world.

It’s also a relative bargain, our dinner came to $447.00/couple including three bottles of wine from a list with plenty of great Spanish selections for under a hundred euros.

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Horcher was just down the street from our palatial digs (Hotel Wellington), which, perched between the tony Salamanca neighborhood and the museum district, provided the perfect jumping off point to stroll the city from the El Retiro Park to the Plaza Mayor. It was also convenient to the far trendier Calle del Dr. Castelo, where the joints were jumping (and crowds spilling onto the streets) late into the evening, which is how we found ourselves shivering on an outside table at La Castela late one night to see what the cool kids were noshing on these days.

Image(You…lookin’ at me?)

 We were freezing, but still wowed by the attentiveness to detail in the dishes flying forth from the kitchen to an eager gaggle of customers waiting patiently for the cooks to catch up with them. Keep in mind, entering these cacophonous tabernas at peak times (which seems to be the millisecond they open their doors until well after midnight, is like trying to order food in a rugby scrum on the floor of a stock exchange. Catching someone’s eye and begging seems to be the way to order, and woe to the tourist who doesn’t know exactly what they want they moment they get their seat.

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Somehow we managed to corral a waiter,  and the plates that finally appeared were pretty nifty….such as this asparagus/bean stew (lower left) which was so dense with flavor it missed not a thing by containing no meat:

Image(Bean there, done that)

Others also held our attention: teeth-testing chicharrónes (bottom center), croquetas bursting with béchamel (not pictured), the mandatory anchovies, the best clams of the trip, and an octopus paella (top row right) which were just the rib-sticking ticket on a blustery night.

All of it enjoyed in an atmosphere resembling a subway car at rush hour. La Castela convinced us that Spaniards must love crowds the way a Swede loves solitude, since jostling to get served seems to be their favorite indoor sport.

Our late night snack, which ended up being at least six courses plus wine, ended up costing $80/pp.

Image(Spaniards enjoying lunch, at dinnertime)

By the time we got to lunch at La Maquina Jorge Juan we were firmly acclimated to the Spanish gustatory customs — which, in winter, treats the midday meal as something to enjoy as the sun is going down. So it was late one afternoon when we whisked to a corner table in a restaurant packed tighter than a conserva tin, and started eating around 3:00 pm.

Unlike most of our other destinations, there was no advanced planning for this meal; we were simply hungry and it was right in front of us and looked good. And boy was it. La Maquina is part of a local chain of “The Machine” restaurants specializing in fresh seafood, and we were happy we stumbled upon the crispiest pan con tomate of the trip:

Image(This delighted me from my head tomatoes)

Among other things like extraordinary olives and anchovies, spicy sobrassada chunks,  gorgeous, fork-tender artichokes, those langoustines (below), and a snowy halibut fillet quivering between slightly underdone and perfection. It was our most unexpected meal of the trip, and serendipitously one of the best.

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All served by a harried staff who nevertheless were friendly, helpful and on their game. As a side note, over two weeks of eating in Spain, in establishments ancient and trendy, large and small, cheap and wallet-bending, we didn’t have bad service, anywhere.

When the dust settled, the damage was $191/couple, the tariff mainly increased by those scrumptious, fresh-from-the-sea Norway lobsters.

 

As you can tell from these travelogues, when we are in any gastronomic capital, we tend to toggle between the newfangled and restaurants dripping with tradition. Which is why we booked it later to that night  to Botin  since it can lay claim to being the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the world.

Botin’s cooks have been slinging roast pork and lamb at customers from the same antiquated ovens since before the United States was even a twinkle in Ben Franklin’s eye.

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The food is very simple and mostly pretty good. The star of the show — roast suckling pig — comes out as crispy and meltingly soft as you’d expect from some place that’s been doing it for three-hundred years. But the bread is pretty basic (the Spanish have nothing on the French when it comes to baking); the tripe stew was gloppy, gummy and bland; and the roast lamb more bones than meat. The garlic and egg soup and scrambled eggs (Revuelto de la Casa) were nothing to shout about, either, and as we repeatedly found in España, salt, pepper and spice seem to be anathema to these kitchens.

In retrospect, we had a ton of fun, the wine was reasonable, the servers were great, and a bucket list check-mark was dutifully applied. But I wouldn’t return for the food.

Our bill (with sherry and two bottles of wine) came to $165/couple.

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After dining among the ghosts of Goya and Hemingway, it was time for a youth movement. And a tasting menu (something we swore to avoid on this trip). Which is how we ended up sampling ten courses of Canary Island-inspired cuisine at Gofio – an envelope of a space tucked into a narrow street (C. de Lope de Vega) in the Barrio de Las Letras (Literary Quarter) neighborhood, a few blocks west of the Prado.

Image(From the sardine can school of restaurant design)

The room is tiny (see above); and the food as modern as the streets are ancient. A succession of small plates,  each highlighting a series of flavors central to the islands’ identity which frame the chef’s oeuvre. But to Chef Safe Cruz’s credit, there was little pretense, most things worked, contrivances were few, and the meal proceeded seamlessly from one course to the next, with a palatable amount of preciousness and explanation.

One website described the menu as envelope-pushing. There certainly was a fair amount of twee this, gelled that, and small plates where a lot of punctiliousness was employed. Gofio stands for the stone-ground flour used in tortillas on the island(s), but we didn’t see a lot of that, or carbs for that matter. That said, most of our dinner was a delight.  But if you’re looking for a course-by-course dissection of the meal, with dishes described in granular detail, you’ve come to the wrong place. (Besides: by the time you read this, everything will have changed. To a bite, though, everything clicked, the flavors were suitably bite-sized, compelling and vivid.)

Image(So. Many. Small. Bites.)

And the Canary Island wines were a revelation: a white Malvasia Volcania — aromatic, bracing and citrusy — a perfect foil for the small bites of seafood, while the red — a Taganan Tinto blend — was elegant and ripe, putting one in mind of a slightly herbaceous Central Coast Pinot Noir .

Restaurants like this is rely on so much plating and technique, you leave slightly dazzled but also dazed: What did I have? That seafood soup (bottom center above) was intense, but what was the seasoning? Oh yes, remember course number four….was that the little pasta in a dashi-like broth? The skirt steak draped with crispy jamon (bottom right) was fabulous, especially with that dusting of what was it? And what were those mojo sauces came with the raw tuna?  Where did they come from again? And what was that orange jelly made of? And so it goes.

Slowly but surely, you lose the plot on everything from the sauces to whatever was in that exquisite little dumpling.

So it goes, for a couple of hours and then you’re done with nothing but a blurred memory of tastes which lose their uniqueness in the blizzard of flavors before and after they hit the table. Of course you loved those starters (the crunch, the freshness, what was that?) but four plates later, who remembers them? Tastes memories quickly fade when faced with savories in rapid succession.

Do people eat like this anywhere but precious, Michelin-chasing restaurants aimed at bored gastronomes and award whores? This is chefs cooking for chefs, like jazz musicians playing for each other. The hornswoggling has to stop sometime, but in Spain,  in 2024, it remains in full flower, and if you insist on eating slightly exotic food in tiny portions, Gofio is the way to go.

There are two tasting menus (95 and 125 euros_ and we opted for the larger one, which, for cooking this precise of ingredients this special, is a flat-out steal. Not to sound like a broken record, but the wines were a bargain, also, and the kids running the joint were a treat.

Image(“Oh no, there’s a Boomer approaching!”)

Arima Basque Soul is one of those taverns catering to an in-the-know clientele in a trendy neighborhood (Chamberi) jammed with bars and restaurants, all of which are far too hip for silver-haired Boomers simply looking for a good plate of grub. Its owner is from San Sebastián and the inventive tapas are firmly rooted in the Basque catechism which holds there is not limit to what you can do with small bites of finger food.

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A long, narrow bar leads past a wall of pickled vegetables to a modern, spotless back room with a giant photo mural of an elderly lady overseeing the proceedings at only five tables.  We didn’t order the txuleta (T-bone) steak and probably should have, but the small bites we did get (charred, piquant piquillo peppers, Beasain black pudding, and some intriguing anchovies served with a green chili emulsion and olive oil beads (below), which is basically a de-constructed “Gilda” — the ubiquitous olive-pepper-anchovy pintxos named after a Rita Hayworth movie  – wherein she plays a character who is by turns salty, spicy and sassy.

Concluding with some beautifully aged Manchego, hauntingly subtle cheesecake) were probably the closest you can get in Madrid to a San Sebastián tapas crawl.

Image(Deconstructing Rita)

It was also where more reverse sticker shock over sherry occurred: when what we thought was a glass of expensive manzanilla resulted in the entire bottle being placed on the table. As we were waving to our well-meaning, it slowly dawned upon our non-Madrileño brains that the price (around 25 euros) was for the whole bottle. And with that, we had no choice but to congratulate ourselves and polish off the whole thing.

That’s the thing about Madrid; Everything was delicious and quite the bargain. I won’t concede gastronomic supremacy to Spain over France and Italy, though, since it cannot compete with Italy’s breadth of ingredients or France’s depth of technique. But there is no doubt that the gourmet revolution of the past thirty years has taken firm hold here, and Madrid is a playground of traditional tabernas holding their own with cutting edge cooking.

When I  mentioned this to several fellow gastronauts (who bought into “Spain is the next big thing” gastronomic mantra of twenty years ago) they were quick to point out to me that “You didn’t go to the right places” and “Wait til you get to San Sebastián.”

Fair enough, but from where I stood, as wonderful as they are, you can’t build a great culinary legacy on anchovies, ham, potatoes, bread, Manchego and Tempranillo.  Perhaps the Basques will change my mind. In the meantime, there are no real losers here, and the delectable debate will rage on.

Viva España!

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The List – 2022

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We eat out a whole lot less than we used to.

But you’d never know it from this list.

We’re down to 5-6 restaurants a week (barely breaking a sweat compared to the old days), and sadly finding less and less to write about.

The infantilizing of food writing has not escaped our attention. The written word is an endangered species, and if it’s not in video or podcast form, few are interested in reading about restaurants anymore. Twenty years ago, I was considered an oddball for obsessively snapping pictures of my food. Fifteen years ago (when this website was conceived), I was still an outlier. Now, even high school kids take pictures of their tacos and rate them on social media.

With this in mind, for once, I’m not going to bore you with a bunch of words. Gleaning through my meals of these past five months, I discovered a number of tasty snaps (and a few videos) that should make you salivate more than prose ever could (which is, I suppose, the whole point of today’s ubiquitous food photography).

So here are the restaurants where you should be eating, from someone (me) who has actually eaten in them. Some of these recs are accompanied only with a picture (worth a thousand words?) — which, we hope, will supply you with ample reason to give them a go.

But first, a few words about Detroit pizza.

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For the uninitiated, Detroit is the home of a rectangular, reverse-form, pan-baked pie that loads its cheese on the top of the dough (and underneath the other toppings) allowing it to infuse a puffy, foccacia-like crust before a f**ckload of condiments are then applied.

Including pineapple? You betcha by golly.

 

Classic | Pizza Crimes | Know Your Meme(…and then we bake it in a casserole)

Refinement is not exactly its strong suit.

Detroit pizza is nothing new: Northside Nathan’s has been around for over twenty years. But it inexplicably became a “thing” a few years ago and now every foodie worth his fermentation extols the fine points of these belly bombs like they’re parsing the contrapuntal tinklings of Glenn Gould.

I blame the internet…and Instagram…and the legalization of weed. Because if nothing else, DP is perfect stoner food: ideal for dive bars, and temperamentally suited for a crowd that is usually as baked as the crust.

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Scott Weiner — America’s Pizza Geek extraordinaire — knows his pies, and Robby Cunningham’s Detroit rectangles stole a pizza his heart.

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If you insist, and if you’re stoned, Red Dwarf (second pic) and Guerilla Pizza (first pic and above, in the Hard Hat Lounge), are two of the best.

On to real restaurants…

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK

Anima by EDO

https://twitter.com/i/status/1508882847855046658

Genting Palace

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Gorgeous room. Beautiful food. Bring your wallet. And a friend’s wallet.

Marisco’s El Fresco’s

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Mariscos El Fresco’s is brand new, and only days old as I type these words. But we snuck in early and the Mexican seafood by Chef/owner John Sosa and Chef David Serrano is like nothing else being offered in town.

Image(These tacos shrimply put others to shame)

What Elia Authentic Greek Taverna did for soul-satisfying Greek cooking these guys are trying to do with much-maligned Mexican seafood — most of which (this far north) is unmitigated crap out of a freezer bag. Minimal decor, maximum flavor, in a challenging location (Tropicana and Pecos). Fingers are crossed.

Nusr-Et Steakhouse

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Burger. Of. The. Year. (so far)

Rosa Ristorante

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Just like Stacy’s mom, Rob Moore (above) has got in going on…on St. Rose Parkway (of all places) way out in the wilds of Henderson. If this culinary renaissance keeps up in this former godforsaken restaurant wasteland, yours truly is going to run out of neighborhoods to trash.

Viva! by Ray Garcia

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Best. Mexican. In. Vegas. My pictures didn’t do the spectacular food justice, so you’ll have to go and snap some for yourself.

The Pepper Club

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Todd English’s third act in Vegas has impressed even an old cynic like me. They don’t call The Pepper Club a Japanese restaurant but that’s exactly what it is….with some great Korean fried chicken to boot.

Wally’s

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Pluses: Surrounded by a fabulous wine store and first-class French cooking, cheese, charcuterie, salads (above), sandwiches (below) and steaks, and perhaps the best fries on the planet. Open for lunch. Good service.  Great people watching.

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Minuses:  Rodeo Drive-level expense amidst a sea of bargain-basement fanny packers — who take one look at the potential wallet damage and flee faster than a fat man from a fresh vegetable.  Also, the inside seating (hard stools at bare tables) doesn’t match the cooking or the (seated) crowd  — making the whole place feel like a fast casual concept got lost on its way to the Cordon Bleu.

Bottom line: Wally’s, like The Pepper Club downtown and Harlo in Downtown Summerlin, is pushing the price envelope — seeing just far it can take the familiar-yet-FOMO comfort food thing. Inflation or no inflation, Millennials and GenXrs show no signs of voting with their feet, as it is consistently filled with folks who don’t seem to mind paying $32 for a salad.

TURNING JAPANESE

Izakaya Go

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Busier than a bee on a flower farm. Harder to get into than a nun’s habit. But worth it.

Sushi Hiro

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Hiro-san and his cadre of sushi chefs (above) are the best reason to eat in Henderson. Big plus: it’s open for LUNCH!

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Trattoria Nakamura-Ya

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Japanese-Italian food may cause some con-fusion to some, but the results are always lip-smackingly delicious.

Ichiza

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Twenty years on, our first izakaya has held up well, even if it now has loads of competition for the late-night sake-and-sustenance crowd.

IT’S CHINATOWN, JAKE

…and don’t you forget it.

One of these are not technically in Chinatown, but all are very Chinese and extremely worth their chopsticks.

Xiao Long Dumpling

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The new kid on the dumpling block is one of the best.

Noodlehead

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When China Mama is packed to the rafters, walk across the street and dandan the day away.

ShangHai Taste

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This is what we meant by “….worth a thousand words.”

Big Wong

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If there’s a better bargain in Chinatown than Big Wong’s Hainanese chicken, or its curry beef, we haven’t found them…or two nicer owners than Wei and Connie:

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Rainbow Kitchen

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Dat sum dim sum and dem sum.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT…

Salvadoreño

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Because no “best restaurants” list should ever be without a Salvadoran platos tipicos:

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MORE SOUTH OF THE BORDER

La Vecindad

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Our go-to when we’re in the mood for some quick queso fundido fun. After lunch there, we usually traipse around the corner to…

Pasabocas Colombian Bakery

…for a taste of Bogata and buñuelos:

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Letty’s de Leticia’s Cocina

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These deep-fried chicharonnes might be our favorite noontime nosh:

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SEOUL FOOD

Napal Baji

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Unknown to most gringos, there is a mini Korean food boom going on in Chinatown. Some of it is perplexing, and subtle it is not.

Most is flat-out fabulous, even if it represents something like an assault  over the 38th Parallel against your taste buds. Rather than trying to parse all the flavors in these ingredient-heavy recipes, we prefer to let the sensations envelope us like the wisdom of their supreme leader.

If you don’t know Korean food, know your Koreans. We have good friends who know their Jjamppongs from their Gopchang Jeongols, and they always ply us with enough sochu that we don’t care how terrible we sound trying to pronounce these things.

Whatever you do, get the spicy sausage “Army” stew (above) — it’s just the thing to fortify you for your never-ending fight against the Commie menace.

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Q Bistro

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This joint has been around for a while, but is a good place to learn our kimchees and Qs. Our Korean friends swear by it. Beware though: some dishes will blow your head off. Like the Kim Sam Bok (above), that tasted as lethal as it looks.

Moobongri Soondae

Another recent addition to our Korean scene. Short on decor, long on authenticity. But it helps to have someone with you who knows how to cut the kalbi:

https://twitter.com/i/status/1515467243332640768

STEAK YOUR CLAIM

We sliced up this subject a couple of months ago, but here are the bovine beauties with whom we continue to have the best beef these days:

Bazaar Meat

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In a town of terrific tartares, José Andrés still makes one of the best. The only thing holding back this restaurant is its location….which we expect to change soon.

Golden Steer

https://twitter.com/i/status/1502493249612644355

Since the pandemic lifted, this place has been busier than a whisky concession at an Irish wedding. Reservations are now essential….even in the bar! The days of popping in for a quick drink and  grabbing a steak and Caesar on your way home are deader than Dean Martin.

Brezza

Image(“Risotto for one, coming right up, Mr. C.”)

Not exactly a steakhouse and not exactly not one, either. So we’re putting it here, even thought we’ve pretty much sworn off Italian restaurants (until we go to Sardinia in July). No matter what you call it, whenever Nicole Brisson is making risotto inside a ginormous wheel of Parm, we’re on it like a porker at an acorn farm.

Carversteak

We’ve eaten a LOT of beautiful steaks in the past six months, but the best has been the dry-aged Kansas City strip at Carversteak:

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We’re pretty nuts about Daniel Ontiveros’s mayonnaise-y take on tartare, too.

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Capital Grille

We come for the lunch (and the steak salad), but stay for dessert:

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Harlo Steakhouse and Bar

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Gina Marinelli’s pastas are better here than they are at La Strega. There, I said it.

The desserts are worth a special trip all by themselves:

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SW Steakhouse

Wallet-bending but worth it. The steaks and sides are superb, but Mark LoRusso’s starters and are stars in their own right.

Image(SW recently gave me a boner. Wait, what?)

Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab

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I’ve never been quite sure what to call this place. In Miami where it was founded it is Joe’s Stone Crab. Here, it is more of a steak house but seafood gets top billing. Not only that but they also do incredible fried chicken. Color me confused, but always satisfied.

Pro tip: this joint is always packed, so go at an off-hour (late lunch is best) or late at night. (You’ll have to wait until fall for your stone crabs, however.)

Sparrow + Wolf

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S+W isn’t a steakhouse per se, but we think this is the best thing on the menu:

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If Carversteak fed us our best steak of the year (so far), this 32 oz. beauty with American banchan isn’t far behind. All of those small dishes of sharply-focused spice, veggies and texture are perfectly calibrated to mitigate the richness of the beef.

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I may occasionally give Howard grief for criticizing the high-wire act he has going on with some of his food, but there’s no denying the pioneering status of his restaurant, and the revitalization of Chinatown it sparked five years ago.

Vic & Anthony’s

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The Golden Nugget does not leap to mind when someone says “first-class beef emporium,” but its steakhouse goes t-bone-to-t-bone with the competition on Fremont Street. The old-school, dark, clubby atmosphere is a big plus, as is the professional service, and a wine list full of bargains if you’re willing to break your Cali cab addiction (see above).

It might also have the best crab cake in Vegas (see below):

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NEVER BEEN TO SPAIN?

Jamon Jamon Tapas

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Traditional Spanish in the burbs. Fun decor. Easy parking. Ignore the surroundings, and dig into tapas to beat the band and the best paella that isn’t made at Jaleo (below).

Jaleo

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There is no better paella in America. The open pit alone cost over $1mil and you can’t duplicate its woodsy subtlety and smokiness without moving outdoors. Also open for lunch (which we tend to forget), and has a killer bar and beverage program (which our aging liver doesn’t need). Around for more than twelve years and still one of our gastronomic gems.

TRIED AND TRUE

Cipriani

https://twitter.com/i/status/1497673359080845319

DE Thai Kitchen

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Don’t ask me what this is or how to pronounce it. Just take this picture to the restaurant, point to the not-so “secret menu” on the wall, and dive in. Beware, however, of ordering it or anything here “Bangkok hot.”

Saginaw’s

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The world famous 99 cent Vegas shrimp cocktail lives! But now it costs $11. Still a bargain; still worth every penny.

Life’s a Bagel

Image(Bagels make the heart dough fonder)

The Legends Oyster Bar & Grill

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Your best off-Strip seafood option that doesn’t have a Japanese flag attached to it.

PublicUs

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Our weekend go-to for incredible coffee and fresh-baked pastries. These scones should be illegal:

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Braeswood BBQ

The two best barbecue options in town are within a couple of blocks of each other on Main Street in #DTLV. Both are no-nonsense odes to smoked meat. Don’t even think of arguing with me about Vegas ‘cue until you’ve given each one a test drive.

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Soulbelly BBQ

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Elia Authentic Greek Taverna

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As welcoming as the Greek Isles, blessedly without the unwanted nudity and non-stop bouzouki music.

Bouchon

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I’ll put this $36 chicken up against your $72 steak any day.

Marché Bacchus

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We don’t know for how much longer André Rochat is going to be cooking, but right now, this septuagenarian’s desserts are worth a special trip.

It’s hard for us to carb our enthusiasm for this place. An essential stop on any Italian eating tour of Las Vegas.

Khoury’s

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I have dreams about this mezze platter: visions of endless baskets of nutty-puffy pita bread, stuffed into my eager maw after a slathering of spicy sujuk sauce and a dollop of labne as cool and bracing as a summer salad  — all of it refreshing my spirit as it satisfies my primal appetites. In my dreams, I caress and suckle each bite as if it were my last, kneeling before these treasures, intoxicated by the perfume of garden greens given lusciousness by oils, seeds, fruits and plants squeezed gently, then rapidly from the earth by pulsating soft-yet-turgid fingers, until, after stroke after stoke, then lick upon lick from my avaricious mouth, the cornucopia of sweet, herbaceous and milky tastes ooze forth in an explosion of happy, dribbled satisfaction.

Thanks, I needed that.

Anyone got a cigarette?

Smiling Charlie Sheen GIF - Smiling Charlie Sheen Smoke - Discover & Share GIFs

D’Agostino’s

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Just order this linguine with clams and thank me later.

Cafe Breizh

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JUST DESSERTS
How inexcusable of us to end without featuring a few sweets that have sated our cravings for something sugared and syrupy after a surfeit of savory sustenance. Good, house-made desserts (like good bread) are now as common in Las Vegas restaurants (on and off the Strip) as hamachi crudo. Here are a few concupiscent confections of which we are quite fondant (sorry, couldn’t resist one last pun).
Just as we can’t resist this picture of Cipriani’s luscious, multi-layered, insanely rich chocolate cake — here being attacked by a Proper Lunch Bunch attendee who we try to keep away from sharp objects and anything that has to be shared:
Image(Matt Brooks can resist anything but temptation)
Honey toast at Sparrow + Wolf (modeled by Sherri Mirejovsky, who graciously took her modeling fee in sweets):
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Vanilla Panna Cotta with Vanilla Sorbet at Wally’s:
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And finally, all the Catalan creams at Jamon Jamon Tapas:
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That’s all for now folks. These should keep you busy for a while. They aren’t every restaurant I’ve been to since Jan. 1, 2022, but they are the ones that left the deepest impression….and where I think your hard-earned dollars will be best spent.
In the meantime, should you want to follow me on a podcast, tune into the What’s Right with Sam & Ash show every Friday to hear my masticatory musings about the Las Vegas food scene.
Or follow me on Twitter (@eatinglasvegas), where I try to post real-time photos (with commentary), about all of my eatings about town.
Bon appétit!
THE END
Image(It only took thirty years, but I’m finally the official something of something.)

Tapas, Tapas, Tapas…and Paella! (Part 3)

Mordeo Boutique Wine Bar is a small plates purveyor of a different stripe. Where Pamplona shoots and scores with authentic, Madrid-style tapas, and Edo gives an updated spin to their Spanish classics, MBWB takes the tapas thing in several different directions. And those directions have as much to do with wine as it does with shareable food. The good news is both are pretty nifty.

What confronts you when you enter is a long, in-laid, colorful three-sided bar. Very L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon that. This counter represents latest manifestation of the side-by-side dining that has been all the rage since Robuchon made such a splash with it in Paris in 2003. Grownups may find it a tad awkward, and for us there’s a couple of high-boy tables in one corner where 4-6 people can actually talk without leaning in and out with every sentence. Hearing is another matter, as you’ll see below.

Once you get comfortable (and to their credit, the staff here puts everyone at ease), you will observe the hustle and bustle behind that bar, as well as the refrigerated wine racks, and all sorts of people moving to and fro, taking orders, mixing drinks, pouring wines, and delivering plates.  It’s really quite a scene, but only three months into its run, the staff and kitchen seem well-synchronized. If you score one of those tables, don’t expect to hear any whispered sweet nothings from your dearly beloved though, as that would require a bullhorn over the din. (In this regard, side-by-side seating makes a lot of sense.)

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If the term “wine bar” in the name doesn’t give you an idea what this place is all about, then the two-sided list will. It’s compact — five whites, six reds, some sake, several sherries — but (almost) everything is price to sell. Strip wine maven/veteran Luis de Santos (pictured above) co-owns and runs the libations side of things, and he has tailored his list to go with the food, but also to be quaffed and enjoyed, not pondered and discussed.

The whole point is to try a couple of bottles with your food, and when you can get a pretty Clarete rosé from Rioja for only $34, and tempranillo-syrah for the same price, there’s no reason not to try both. (Those are bottle prices, not the by-the-glass gouges you find on The Strip.) You almost get the feeling that he and chef/owner Khai Vu are testing the waters with these wines, as they try out which ones, at what price point, will appeal to their customers. Something tells me the offerings will expand as this place gains its footing, and every bottle won’t always be in the $30-$50 range. But for the time being, everything is quite a bargain. Even the beer.

Tasty, inexpensive wine may be what brought you through the door, but the food is what will keep you here.

Here, you’re just as likely to find a Mexican-inspired elote corn skewer, and snow pea leaves with garlic, ginger and sake, as you are a satisfying fingerling patatas bravas. This all-over-the-map menu has them all, and by and large, you won’t be disappointed. The Lomi Lomi Ocean Trout (pictured above) can only be described as zesty. It may be the best ceviche you’ve ever had in Vegas. Right beside it on the ceviche list are a classic, Mexican shrimp aguachile, and Maine lobster with mango salsa, and they’re no slouches, either.

Just as enthralling as all that sparkling seafood is The Cloud — thin, and we mean really thin, slices of Iberico de Bellota Cinco Jotas on top of a super thin, almost invisibly crispy chicharrónes :

— as perfect a nibble with a glass of verdejo as has ever been invented.

They do something they call Beet Garden here — red and golden beets with a goat cheese mousse — that is as wine-friendly (and pretty) as any root veggie dish can get:

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The meaty king crab leg (at $38, the most expensive thing on the menu, but not the most photogenic) is crabby enough for two, and the cold, briny oysters, and ginormous Nigerian prawn (below) show they’re also serious about their seafood:

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Other winners include a meaty La Asada (grilled Angus skirt steak with some kick-ass chimichurri sauce), and a stew of clams, chorizo, and mussels (pictured above with the prawn) that has quite a kick of its own (from the white wine/sriracha sauce).

Desserts are only two in number (and always in flux), but if this mango rice pudding (made to look like a fried egg) is offered, don’t miss it:

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You’ll have no complaints about the flan, either, but when was the last time you complained about a flan?

Too many many modern restaurants, in their endless attempts to mash up American food into with every cuisine on the planet, try too hard to dazzle you with their footwork at the expense of harmony and balance. There is both ingenuity and restraint in these dishes, which is rare these days. While it’s easy to decry the menu’s lack of focus, the wild ride you take among these flavors captivates your palate without ever wearing it out.

If you squint a little you’ll see a lot of similarities to what Edo is doing just down the street. But whereas Oscar Edo keeps his eye on Spain, Khai Vu let’s his wander a little farther, and tosses in everything from Mexico to the Japanese/Chinese kitchen sink. That he does this without ever going a seasoning too far is quite extraordinary. Mordeo, like its competition, may have hit on just the right formula to drive complacent palates down to Spring Mountain Road: interesting, hand-tooled, strongly-seasoned, wine-friendly food. The kind of food Las Vegas has needed since I moved here in 1981. The kind you can now find in three restaurants (Pamplona, Edo and Mordeo) all within a couple of miles of each other.

(Dinner for two, with a few drinks, or a bottle of modestly-priced wine, should run around $100/couple, excluding tip.)

MORDEO BOUTIQUE WINE BAR

5420 Spring Mountain Road #108

Las Vegas, NV 89146

702.545.0771

https://www.mordeolv.com/