Eating Los Angeles – From Top to Tacos – Part 2

Image

EAST L.A. TACO CRAWL

Proceeding from exquisite, punctilious Japanese to wolfing down tacos off the hood of a car is how we were rolling this weekend. Our intrepid sense of adventure led us straight up Olympic Avenue, to Boyle Heights in the heart of East L.A., where Latino feed wagons dole out bulging tortillas to lines of customers, drawn to the food and oblivious to the seediness of the streets upon which it is served. These trucks have huge followings on social media, making them wildly popular with an array of gueros who wouldn’t have been caught dead on these streets ten years ago.

If there’s one thing that distinguishes this taco culture from what most Americans think of as tacos, it is the utter, unbridled abandonment with which these are made. Meat is cooked, braised, or barbecued in great volume, with the pockets of luscious proteins composed with all the portion control of a four year old with an ice cream scoop.

Mealy-mouthed tacos these are not. Big, fat, thick with meat and onions and salsa, fairly bursting from their corn or flour confines. Every bite is an adventure, a balancing act between getting the food into your mouth before it hits your shirt. The results, either way, are glorious.

We began at Carnitas El Momo —  nothing more than a trailer parked on a side-street with three cooks furiously tending pots of luscious stewed pork and searing it on a portable plancha under an unrelenting sun. Our taco guide began us with these overstuffed wonders:

Image

…and they were so good we could’ve parked our behinds on the curb and spent the day parking a bevy of these braised beauties into our gullets.

But there were other trucks to be tackled, so no mixtos, tripe or tortas for us. After a few bites we were off in search of seafood: Mariscos Jalisco‘s crispy tacos and ceviche tostadas to be precise:

Image(Shrimply delicious – hard-shelled shrimp tacos the way they were meant to be)

…then in quick succession, Tacos y Birria La Unica for some crunchy, roasted, shredded goat, dipped in a rich consommé, the savory equivalent of dipping a fudge brownie in chocolate sauce:

Image

…before ending at Enrique Olvera’s Ditroit Taquería— cut into the backside of a warehouse where his more formal restaurant  (Damian) is located. The long narrow space is really just a backdoor window, but the limited menu showcases tacos given a chef’s touch — composed of top shelf products and brought to tables and chairs on an outdoor seating patio, that, when compared with the Olympic taco trucks, felt like dining at the Ritz.

Image(Pollo Las Brasas taco)

Our only regret was lack of hunger, due to having consumed a raft of tacos already, and looking down the barrel of a “secret beef” orgy only hours away (see below). Still, the quality of Olvera’s oeuvre shined through our food comas, enhancing this most humblest of lunches, while respecting the essence of L.A. taco culture. It was the perfect ending to our six taco and two taquito midday snack-a-thon.

A trip to east L.A. is not recommended for the extremely white or faint of heart. Or after dark. Or without a guide. You will feel as out of place as Baptist at a bar mitzvah, but don’t let that deter you. Everyone in line, no matter what their lineage, is worshiping at the same church of Mexican street food brought to its pinnacle of deliciousness. This is may be where some fear to tread, but the intrepid (like our taco hound/guide, the inimitable JB Bagley) press forth, conquering this uniquely Mexican-American territory — a gourmand’s paradise where only the strong survive. And by “survive” we mean retain the strength to always hit another taco truck.

Price:

The Food Gal® says: “Tacos, tacos, y mas tacos…will still only cost you about $5/piece. The most expensive ones at Ditroit, were only $8/per. Mas tacos por favor!”

Image

TOTORAKU (“Secret Japanese Beef”)

Good manners and good sense keep me from saying too much about this impossible-to-get-into Japanese steakhouse. For over twenty years Chef Kaz Oyama has run Totoraku like a semi-private club  — only accepting reservations from known regulars. It is not like New York’s  Rao’s  — where a limited number of regulars “own” the tables on certain nights — but more like a secret society where only the privileged get his private number and are allowed to book one of the five tables available five nights/week.

The beef extravaganza is the best you will find anywhere; the cooking instructions precise (you grill most of it, yakiniku-style at hibachis at your table), and the booze policy strictly BYO, which means trophy bottles abound. (He originally opened a teriyaki joint in the space in 1999, but that lasted about ten minutes, so he quickly pivoted to exclusive steaks, but kept the sign – see above.)

It is easy to see why Oyama-san keeps the secrecy thing going. One set of social media pictures and the place would be overrun with FOMO Instagrammers and Millennials more interested in bragging rights than the food. The day that happens will be the day he closes up shop. A meal here feels like you’re in someone’s home — if that someone was a dedicated Japanese chef sourcing some of the best beef on the planet. Since I’m looking forward to a re-match with all that meat, these words will be all you’ll get…besides this picture of one of their ancient hibachi grills:

Image

A litany of the dishes seems ridiculous (or needlessly braggadocios), given the futility of describing food most will never try for themselves. There is no menu; and the 10+ courses toggle between all sort of beef cuts, from ultra-tender tartare to spongy beef throat, bracketed by a simple amuse-bouche platter of minced and chopped delights, and a soul-warming crab soup at the end — all of it served by an attentive staff, threatened not by flames or unruly customers, but by the tsunami of big-hitter red wines being poured all around them.

They handle the meat, the guests and the wine with good-natured aplomb, keeping your four-hour cholesterol-fest moving at a smooth clip. Carbohydrates are non-existent, and everyone is usually too drunk for dessert. But I’m sober enough to remember I promised Kaz-san I would say no more….so I will say no more.

Interior of Ivy at the Shore in Santa Monica. Photo of the bar with pitchers of fresh roses and pineapples on the bar, and, small french cafe tables with bamboo chairs for people who want to have drinks and appetizers adjacent, as well as a view of the entire front room with tables and chairs 1930’s french paintings on the walls and an 8’ tall painting of a clipper ship with writing on the ocean “brave men run in my family“. In the windows next to the ceiling are a collection of 1920’s french sailboats.

IVY BY THE SHORE

Santa Monica is a funny place — it has some of the most expensive real estate in America, but always seems in danger of being overrun by people who can barely afford to park their backpacks. Any day of the week you’ll find the homeless mixing with the well-heeled here, interspersed with tourists and Inland Empire families seeking to escape the summer heat. It’s probably the greatest mingling income brackets anywhere in America, which is one of the reasons we love it.

Ocean Avenue runs the length of the western edge of the city, and the name is a bit misleading. You can see the ocean from Ocean Avenue, but it’s still a half-mile hike to get to it, down huge cliffs, across the Pacific Coast Highway and large expanses of sand. There is a nice park running atop of those cliffs, beside which is a strip of mostly motels, and one tourist trap restaurant after another.

It’s something of a rule of thumb that the closer to the Santa Monica Pier you are, the worse the food gets, but there is one exception. It is something of a tradition for us to stop by the Ivy at the Shore  for our last meal before heading back to Vegas.

We do this for several reasons, one of which is the food, expensive as it is, is still actually quite good in a laid-back California sort of way. The other is you never quite know when some Los Angeles Dodger, or that guy who used to play that guy in that sitcom might walk in. (Besides beach bums of all stripes, Santa Monica is also full of “what’s her/his name?” actors.)

They serve old-style, Cali comfort food here, like they have been since 1984, and it never fails to hit the spot. While you’re waiting for Steve Garvey or Bob Saget to walk through the door, you should order a couple of the fresh squeezed juices. The come in milk shake tumblers and are worth every penny of the $10 they charge for them. Then nibble on scones right out of the oven (served with good butter), as you peruse the menu:
Image
Don’t expect any surprises on the menu, just well-made standards like crab meat eggs Benedict, a spicy corn chowder, a good burger, seriously crabby (deep-fried) crab cakes (below) and salads made without compromise.
Image
The Ivy has gone from new-fangled to old-fashioned in the thirty-five years we’ve been showing up, and still feels like the owners care about quality. Most restaurants this age would be starting to show theirs, but even the pink thing has been kept fresh. In spite of being a celebrity hang-out (and despite us being a nobodies in this part of the world), I’ve never detected a whiff of attitude from its staff, and from the young(er) couples all around us, it looks like its reputation has grown beyond those of us who remember their glory days of 1992.   Colorful, comfortable, beach-y and bright, it is the best you can do on Ocean Avenue. For a price.
Image

You can eat well in The Southland if you’re willing to pay for it, and you can eat well and cheaply if you know where to look. But whether you’re stalking the wilds of Santa Monica, or crawling through the barrio, or stuffing yourself with superior sushi, you had better know the territory. And have a nice ride.

 

Enough Already…

Whiskey Barrel Wood Block SMOKED Cocktail Gift Set image 0(Please god, Make. It. Stop.)

Smoke – No one likes smoked meats more than yours truly. But bread? Veggies? Cocktails? Butter? Ice? Banana pudding? (Yep, we had it once, in Austin, TX, natch.) When it comes to smoked foods, a little goes a long way (unless we’re talking beef brisket), and the gimmick has run its course.

Octopus – If another piece of octopus never touches these lips it will be too soon. If another waiter never comes to my table bringing the grilled tentacles of a dead cephalopod (which probably cost the restaurant 89 cents), I will jump for joy. The gleam in their eyes when they act like Neptune has anointed them special dispensation to shower us with rubbery nothingness is actually quite comical, considering that every upscale restaurant in the world seems to offer it these days.

Branzino – I’m old enough to remember when Mediterranean sea bass was a new thing in America (we’re talking mid-90s); now every chef in town trots them out like the fresh-caught king of the sea is being bestowed upon your table. When every restaurant you go to is shilling “branzino,” you know you’re being mass-marketed by a wholesaler with plenty of product. It’s almost enough to make us miss Orange Roughy.

And as long as we’re talking about being sick of seafood, how about…

Scallops in the shell

Scallops – are great, when they’re done correctly. And by “correctly” we mean being broiled whole, in the shell, with their roe (see above) — like they do in Europe. Sea scallop abductor muscles are the boneless, skinless chicken breasts of American cuisine. Every chef cooks them exactly the same way: crispy-browned on one side, sitting in the middle of a naked plate. This is because they (and their diners) are afraid of actual scallops. ADMIT IT.

Infeasibly large Nigerian prawns – God only knows why/when these things started to invade American menus (actually, we know: it was around four years ago). Now they’re more ubiquitous in Las Vegas than attorney billboards.

Curated cocktails – Just make me a decent drink with good booze and get over yourself.

Tacos – unless you’re Mexican. It is a scientific fact that you can’t make a good taco unless you speak with a slight Spanish accent. No one named Seamus McMullen ever made a taco worth eating.

Image(Made by real Mexicans at Milpa)

Every chef thinking he/she can barbecue – Unless you’re getting three hours of sleep a night, hauling whole hogs around, and are covered with more smoke than a northern Californian, you aren’t doing it right.

(Ken Spadey, doin’ it right)

“Tapas menu” – Unless you’re Spanish, stop it.

Tomahawk steaks – Bros and Bruhs love these odes to excess, served in temples to testosterone. Modern Vegas was made for them. Show me a table making a big deal over 40 ounces of meat and I’ll show you a group of douchebags. Give me a tasty strip or picanha steak any day.

Image(Picanha steak at 8East)

Natural wines – Don’t get me started. If I wanted to drink fetid feet, I’d ferment my sweaty socks.

Korean ketchup Unless you’re a Korean cooking Korean, you need to holster this luscious condiment and leave it to the experts. Non-Koreans playing with Korean flavors are as out of their depth as a short order cook at a sushi bar.

Bao – Unless you’re Chinese (or at least vaguely Asian), stop sticking everything imaginable inside of tiny buns! I know, I know: THASS RACESS!

Avocado toast – I know, I know: taking on avocado toast is trashing some pretty low-hanging fruit. Most of it is terrible, but the one exception? This bad boy at Johnny C’s Diner:

Image

Tataki – Thank you Nobu Matsuhisa, for giving every chef in America license to throw a tangy, vaguely Asian vinaigrette on some lightly-seared protein and call it original. “Ceviche” is almost as bad, but I’m too exhausted to complain about it right now.

Tartare’d everything – It started with steak, now it’s everything from tuna to avocado to beets. Calling it poke doesn’t get you off the hook. We realize attaching “tartare” to a foodstuff removes the sting of it being raw, but slapping a trendy name on something doesn’t make it special,

Obscure, weird-ass menu names Tatsoi, Dulse, Samphire, Tropaeolum tuberosum….we get it: you are ready to dazzle us with your out-of-the-box cooking and mastery of the inscrutable. But we’re here for dinner, not Google searches.

Under-cooked vegetables – This includes potatoes. You’d be surprised how many restaurants don’t know how long to cook a spucking fud.

Photo of Able Baker Brewing - Las Vegas, NV, United States. Beer Menu 1(Pacifiers not included)

Local brews – Face it: most Las Vegas-made beers taste like carbonated dishwater. FACT! The only time you’ll ever catch me telling people NOT to support locals is when they’re trying to drag me into a local brewpub. You can tell our water is all wrong for beer brewing because our suds landscape is littered with…

Infeasibly absurd beer flavors (see above) – You can tell how awful most made-in-Vegas brews are by the ridiculous additives (and juvenile/asinine names) they employ to get you to drink them. Pineapple-Curry-Spice Stout? Coming right up, sir!

Dumplings – unless you’re a dumpling restaurant.

Shishito peppers everywhere – Who decided this was a good idea?

Image

Deep-fried cauliflower – hasn’t quite yet jumped the shishito pepper/Brussels sprouts shark, but it’s close.

Crispy sweet-sour Brussels sprouts – Another way for chefs to push some cheap-ass bitter vegetable no one likes to try to boost their bottom line.

Quinoa – No one likes it; it tastes like cardboard ; it doesn’t go well with anything. The only people who order it are pansy-ass trend followers.

Word I Agree GIF by INTO ACTION

Keto – I don’t even know what the fuck it is, but I hate it.

Paleo anything – When I’m allowed to start dragging women around by the hair, I’ll start eating like a caveman.

Gluten-free – Are we done with all that celiac disease nonsense? (I know some people suffer, but most of you don’t, so get over it and eat a real pizza fer chrissakes.)

Calling anything “milk” that isn’t – Soy milk, almond milk, rutabaga milk…..STOP IT! It ain’t milk, it’s JUICE. Call it “soy juice” and watch the sales dry up…like they should.

Making a big deal out of a motherf*cking chicken sandwich – ANY chicken sandwich.

Air-frying – You ain’t FRYING A GODDAMN THING! How dumb are you? Wait, don’t answer that.

Celebrity booze – Does the world really need another tequila? Or Jay-Z slapping his name on another overpriced champagne? The question answers itself.

Each one of these is enough to make me want to chug a bottle of Walton Goggins’ Mulholland Gin.

Feel The Bern Democrats GIF by Bernie Sanders

The End

Postscript:

Image

 

Image

 

 

 

 

What’s New In Vegas – Part Deux

Image

You can’t talk about Las Vegas without mentioning Circa. A modern behemoth on the western end of Fremont Street, it is the first major hotel/casino to open downtown in forty years.

It sits at the far western terminus of Fremont, catty-corner to the Plaza Hotel, and across the street from the Golden Gate — Las Vegas’s oldest hotel. To say it brings a breath of fresh air to the run-down environs of downtown is like saying a Rolls Royce adds a touch of class to a drag race.

The resort has gone all-in on sports betting and pool-lounging, with Olympic-sized video screens indoors and out. The effect in the sports book is one of immersion: bringing the hi-def athletes so close to the viewer they appear larger than life.

The Legacy Club and rooftop pool have quickly become attractions in their own right, and on the second floor you’ll find two very different restaurants, side-by-side, which are two of the best of their kind anywhere in town. In the basement is the show pony — a new high-steaks entry in our beef emporium wars.

Image

Barry’s Downtown Prime

Could a new gilded age be upon us? One look at Barry’s and you’d think so. All brass, glass and sass, the decor echoes the 70s (a fern bar without ferns springs to mind) with its gleaming surfaces inset with oversized booths. It is a huge (300+ seats), underground space, but the muted lighting (and the way they’ve chopped it up), creates a certain clubby intimacy. What it has also created in a few short months is buzz — the sort of vibe that spreads like jello shots through a day club.

What Barry’s has in spades is the sort of steakhouse-as-nightclub atmosphere first perfected at N9NE in the Palms, and then carried forth by the STK Steakhouse chain (a meat market as concerned with beefcake and babes as it is with its beef).

Now, it’s a well-known fact that celebrities, short skirts and superior sustenance go together about as well as chocolate chips and shrimp. An inviolable alimentary axiom posits that the quality of the cuisine always is inversely proportional to the number of hot chicks at the bar. NO ONE DENIES THIS!

(Parenthetical digression: last month I went on a barbecue tour of Eastern North Caroline (the spiritual home of whole hog ‘cue), and there wasn’t a babe within 30 miles of the smokehouse. FACT. You won’t find any cleavage or clippy-cloppy stilettos at a New England lobster shack, either.)

The point is: the food at Barry’s is beside the point. It’s really just a placeholder for having a good time. Chef Barry Dakake made a name for himself (and perfected this template) at N9NE at the Palms. Now he’s gone underground to take his steak fame to another level.

Image(Rib cap with mandatory shishitos)

Dakake knows how to make a steakhouse good but not too good. This is not to damn him with faint praise but to admire his tightrope walking/business acumen. Barry’s doesn’t want fussy gastronomes sniffing around; it wants big wallets and big egos prowling for hot trim. Eventually, it will turn into a Lavo, Tao (or the aforementioned STK), and it’s only a matter of time before it is crawling with hockey and football players. Until then, it is a worthy addition to the Vegas steak roster.

The aforementioned bar has plenty of top-shelf booze and expensive cocktails to whet your whistle. Pound down a couple for a cool forty bucks, and then check out the wine list.

To be fair, it was conceived in a pandemic and executed in a panic so you can forgive its lack of imagination. Prices are high (but not pre-Covid Strip high); interesting bottles are few and far between. To give you an idea: a $24 of Nozzole Chianti Classico will set you back $70. Nothing is under fifty bucks and good bottles for under a hundy are harder to find than a collared shirt in the casino. Settle for an Oregon Pinot Noir or some weak-ass Merlot, or bring your own if you don’t mind a fifty buck corkage.

With those preliminaries out of the way, it’ll be time to tuck into the menu. Prepare yourself for the shockingly bad (gummy-flabby lobster potstickers), the bizarrely bad (a “real” garbage salad, appropriately named), and the could-be better (a bland steak tartare)…as well as the usual steak suspects.

Venture too far from the herd and a mixed bag awaits. A braised short rib in an eye-opening harissa-mint sauce wins “best in class” no matter whose you compare it to. But then there’s a Mary’s Farm organic chicken both voluminous and sloppy. (Adorned with a prosciutto “crisp” of no consequence other than to impress the rubes.)

The $76 Dover sole is good….but not $76 good, and I can’t recommend the salmon. Not because I didn’t like it, but because ordering salmon in a steakhouse is like going to a bordello for a back rub. AMIRITE?

Image(This filet slays)

Dakake doesn’t know how to make a bad steak, so you’re on solid turf if you decide to skip the surf. Everything is flawlessly charred, slightly smokey and seasoned so well that saucing them becomes an afterthought. All meat comes at a price and with a pedigree, but even the 8 oz., $56 filet (above) is a succulent slice of superior steer. I can’t remember the last time I praised a filet.

As good as the steaks are, it is a pasta dish which is destined to be a showstopper: the lobster mac ‘n cheese. Brimming with enough richness to induce an infarction, it has “signature side” written all over it:

Image(Lobster ‘n mac me, please)

For dessert you will get the baked Alaska, not because you love baked Alaska but because you’ll see it being flamed table-side all around you. I’ve never understood the appeal of too-hard, mediocre ice cream inside a charred meringue crust, but I’ve ordered it here, twice. This is because I’m a fool for fire, and an idiot for anything singed tableside.

If you don’t identify as a self-loathing pyromaniac, the carrot cake and campfire s’mores are worthy alternatives.

A meal for two here, exclusive of booze, gets to two hundred dollars faster than you can say “medium-rare.” One of our three meals was comped; one of them happened anonymously. The service was excellent each time.

BARRY’S DOWNTOWN PRIME

Circa Hotel and Casino

8 Fremont Street

Las Vegas, NV 89101

702.726.5504

Image(Real men eat deli)

Saginaw’s

I hesitate to name Saginaw’s “The Best Deli in Town” because every time I bestow such benefaction, the recipient of my beneficence is out of business within a year. (Same thing happens with barbecue.)

But it is, and the proof is in the latkes. “Most of them in other restaurants look like a hockey puck,” Paul Saginaw (above) will tell you. “Ours take longer, and they have a good amount of schmaltz in them.”

That’s really all you need to know about this place. It’s full of schmaltz — Jewish olive oil — the kind of bred-to-the-bone Jewishness which is proud of its culinary heritage, not running away from it.

“When we first opened,” he continues, “our corned beef outsold turkey by this much (placing his right hand high above his left). Now, they’re about equal.”

“Nobody eats lox (cured salmon) anymore, even though it is cheaper,” Saginaw says. He then admits other smoked fishes, despite their keto-approved healthiness, are considered the domain of 80 year old Bubbees. These admissions come after I question whether the classic Jewish delicatessen is now about as fashionable as Henny Youngman.

He admits that it has. Pickled herring, smoked whitefish, lox used to fly out the door. No longer, he says wistfully. Lox now takes a back seat to cold-smoked Nova, if you can sell it at all.

This may not bode well for the future of delicatessens, but as a dedicated faynshmeker, I would urge you to take one bite of this beauty before writing them off entirely:

Image(Whatever you do, don’t Passover this Nova!)

At the drop of his fedora, Saginaw will wax poetic about rendering chicken fat and skins down, filter it into schmaltz, then frying the gribenes (cracklings) before whipping them into the chopped liver and sauteed onions. The result, when done right, like it is here, is otherworldly:

Image(Not just any chopped liver)

You’ll have to travel to New York, or Ann Arbor, or Los Angeles to find any as good.

He admits no self-respecting Millennial would be caught dead professing admiration for chopped liver…even if they swoon over some fancy-schmancy paté. Such are the tides Saginaw’s is swimming against.

And then there is the corned beef — the holy grail of edible Judaism.

Brined in Michigan to Saginaw’s specs, flown to Vegas and finished on-site, it is so good it could turn a Hindu into a Hebrew:

Image(Beef – properly curated and corned)

As I’ve said on social media, don’t even talk to me about the best corned beef in town until you’ve had this bad boy.

Bread crust with real crackle, soft-yet-dense chewy rye enveloping lean, salty/spicy meat, it is a sandwich that puts its competition to shame. “Even the New York delis use cheaper bread and pre-slice it these days,” he rues. “Ours takes more time but we think you can taste the difference.”

Saginaw’s house-made, slightly-spicy Russian dressing has twelve ingredients in it and is worth a trip all by itself. So are the house-fried potato chips. They get their breads from Bon Breads locally, and he’s looking for a local bagel bakery which meets his standards. (Right now they’re coming par-baked from New York).

The desserts are from the nonpareil Zingerman’s Bakehouse. They also do real half-sour (“new”) pickles here along with fully sour (“old”) ones; the cream cheese is “the cream of the cream cheese crop” (according to Cooks Illustrated), and even the kneidlach (matzoh ball) soup is a deeper, denser, more intense broth than the shiksa stuff you’re used to.

Spend five minutes with Paul Saginaw and you’ll find his enthusiasm for good deli is infectious. He’s in the restaurant every day, and is a non-stop fount of opinions you can learn from. (Get him talking about bread and fatty brisket and he’ll make a convert of you forever.)

This deli is his labor of love and it tastes like it. Don’t even think about telling me your deli is better until you’ve tried it.

Image

Sandwiches are in the $15-$22 range but easily feed two. A meal for two with plenty of leftovers should be about $50, including tip. I had five meals here before I met and interviewed Mr. Saginaw. Service was always friendly and helpful and lickity-split.

SAGINAW’S

Circa Hotel and Casino

8 Fremont Street

Las Vegas, NV 89101

702.726.5506

Image

8East

Sitting within a stone’s throw of Saginaw’s, on the same side of the second floor, is a stark contrast to a traditional deli and big hitter beef emporium. 8East checks the boxes for those wanting something Asian, unique, modern, and flexible. It is not a noodle bar, per se, nor is it all about bao, or dedicated to dumplings. What you’ll find is a mix and match menu of Asian nibbles from across the Pacific, given a personal spin by chef/owner Dan Coughlin.

Coughlin is something of an Asian-American phenomenon. His family has run traditional Thai restaurants for years, and he struck out on his own a decade ago with the fabulously successful Le Thai on East Fremont. Given a bigger space to work with (above), he’s let his imagination run wild (but not too wild) with the various techniques  of the Far East.

Image(Boffo bao)

The cuisine itself is hard to pigeonhole, but that’s part of the fun. Coughlin may be playing with flavors from all over the Pacific, but he has enough restraint to keep things in focus.

You can toggle between the traditional (a steamed egg custard with soy and sesame), to the trendy (pork belly bao) and never find a flaw. His Dan Dan and Sizzling Noodles would be right at home on Spring Mountain Road, while seared circles of carpaccio, adorned with baby tatsoi greens and dressed with citrus wasabi creme, are straight from the Nobu playbook.

Coughlin is unabashed in wanting to use the entire Asian flavor palette, as when he drops traditional Chinese sauteéd green beans with ground pork, right next to bites of Hawaiian musubi, and a Tokyo crepe rolled, sushi roll-style, around sauteéd mushrooms and fried tofu.

Image(My little dumplings)

He doesn’t make a big deal about his vegetarian offerings, but he should. Dishes like the simple, stir-fried bok choy in oyster sauce, the fried tofu, and the mélange of mushrooms in butter are some of the tastiest plant-based recipes you’ll find, in Asia or anywhere.

Page two of the menu finds a plethora of impressive proteins  — from definitive salt & Szechuan pepper wings to cumin lamb lollipops to crispy pork belly — square chunks of sticky sweet pork that could be sold as meat candy if someone wanted to make a killing. The only entree over twenty bucks is the Five Spice New York Strip ($25), with echos of Chinese spices playing off good beef and a tangy “butterfall” sauce.

Image

About the only thing we can’t wholeheartedly endorse is the “$MKT-priced Lobster Fried Rice” (above). It’s plenty good, but (as we like to say), it ain’t $55 good. Stick with the Brisket Fried Rice ($16), or one of the noodle dishes if starch is what you seek.

Sharing is the mantra here, and experimenting with Asia, the theme. Coughlin’s menu has something for everyone and packs quite a punch for such a small operation (at such a small price point). The only thing it needs now is customers.

Nothing on the menu (except that steak) is over $16. Two people can eat like kings for $50, and four will be stuffed for a Benjamin, exclusive of booze. We haven’t tried any cocktails, but they’re quite proud of them. The wine list is barely adequate to the task; the sake selection a little better.

8EAST

Circa Hotel and Casino

8 Fremont Street

Las Vegas, NV 89101

702.726.5508

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

To summarize: Barry’s is a worthy addition to Vegas’s high-end sweepsteaks; Saginaw’s is best in show by a Moses mile; and 8East is a breath of fresh Asian-fusion air in a part of town that needs one.

Derek Stevens’ team should be applauded for shaking up a hotel’s culinary offerings with something other than the usual steak, Italian, coffee shop suspects. There’s also a burger restaurant (Victory Burger, below) which is fine, if not life-changing, and a coffee bar (Jack Pots) with some tasty brews and tastier breakfast cakes straight from Zingerman’s.

Bottom line: You don’t need to leave the premises to eat very well, and it’s been a long long time since anyone said that about a hotel on Fremont Street.

Image(Victory Burger!)