A Moveable Feast – How to Eat and Drink in France and Italy

Good food is everywhere in Europe, at all price points these days, so there’s no excuse for not eating well when you’re over there.

The three countries I visit most (Italy, France, Germany) have serious coffee cultures, so a good cup of joe is always within reach. Those ubiquitous cafes and coffee bars also stock plenty of other juices, teas, and alcohol….so if you’d like some Jack Daniels or Amaretto in your cup at 8 am, they’ll oblige.

I’m not going to get into all the fine points of Euro coffee cups, but the  big difference between their coffee cultures and ours has to do with volume, strength, and frequency. Euros take their coffee in small, strong doses, and do shots of it throughout the day as caffeinated fuel. If you can’t handle the high octane stuff (aka espresso), ask for yours au lait (“with milk”) or café crème (France) or con crema (Italy). Crème and crema both mean “with cream”, although it’s really more like whole milk.

Confused? Don’t be. Just do what I do: either order a cappuccino or just say olé!

My routine is: find a cafe close to your hotel, adopt it as your hangout for how many days you’ll be in town. By day two or three the proprietor/barista will treat you like an old friend when you walk in. Unless you’re in Germany. In Germany, they don’t even treat old friends like old friends.

For the record, here’s my 12 Step Program for eating in France and Italy:

  1. Wake up.
  2. Shower, shave, take care of business while trying not to twist, strain, or break anything in the process (see previous article).
  3. Go to your regular cafe and get a cafe au lait with a croissant (France), or a cappuccino with a brioche (Italy). Gently caress the pastry in one hand as you dunk it into the soothing brown liquid, then eat it while sipping and holding your cup in your other hand. Perfect this art and you’ll feel like a native in no time. Perfect it whilst standing up and affecting a vague air of insouciance about world affairs, and the women will flock to you like you’re Marcello Mastroianni in 1962.
  4. Remember, in France and Italy, breakfast is good for only one thing: thinking about lunch.
  5. Start thinking about lunch
  6. Eat lunch (see below).
  7. Towards the end of lunch, start discussing your dinner plans.
  8. Rest up for dinner.
  9. Have dinner.
  10. Walk off dinner for an hour or so, promising your wife you’ll take her shopping or sightseeing in the morning (which you both know is a lie).
  11. Return to hotel.
  12. Sleep, then repeat steps 1-12 the next day.

Lunch

(Dejeuner at Le Grand Véfour)

The older I get, the more I like to eat and drink myself silly at lunch rather than dinner — it gives you more time to digest things and walk off the calories.

Americans aren’t used to intensive care service at high noon, but it’s the best way to enjoy a big deal meal at a destination restaurant. There’s usually a “lunch special” of a few courses for a set price that’s a relative bargain, and the difference between the food at lunch and dinner is nil. In fact, to my observation, lunch is when most the local gourmets come out to play in the big cities. Dinnertime seems to be for businessmen and tourists.

Lunch takes one of three forms: either a formal affair in a restaurant (France) or ristorante (Italy), or a more casual, but still coursed-out meal in a bistro or trattoria, or a quick bite in one of those cafes where you grab your coffee (all of them usually serve some kinds of pizzas, salads, and sandwiches).

The Rick Steves of the world (and many tourists) prefer the quick casual lunch because it leaves them more time for sightseeing. In my world, the food is the sight to see, so I prefer the bistros of Paris, or a local trattoria which serves the traditional cuisine of the area. Regardless of your mood, there’s always fascinating sustenance to find.

Cafes are everywhere in Paris (I counted nine in a five block walk to my hotel, above), and Rome, Milan, Venice, Verona, Bardolino (not to mention Lyon and smaller French towns like Beaune, and the entirety of Alsace) are chock full of places to eat. You may get an indifferent meal in some of them, but even average Italian or French food over there is a lot better than what we’re subjected to over here.

Dinner

Dinner should be the opposite of lunch. If you stuff yourself silly at midday, find a cafe or casual spot and while away the evening over one or two courses while pondering where to eat the next day. Wine bars are also great for small snacks and light meals.

Know, however, that more formal restaurants have fairly strict and limited service hours. Lunch is usually served from 12:30-2:30, and dinner from 7-9. Restaurants that take reservations usually have one seating only, and the table is yours until they close up shop.

Cafes, bistros, brasseries and trattorias are much more flexible and generally have non-stop service throughout the day….although the only people you’ll see chowing down on a pizza or choucroute garni at 5:00 pm are usually jet-lagged tourists. A good rule of thumb is: the more limited a place’s hours, the more serious it is about its food. Speaking of which…

Rules of Thumb

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Get the specials. If there’s a chalk board (and in France, there’s always a chalk board), order off it. That’s where the good stuff is.

Get out of your comfort zone AKA take the stick out of your ass. You didn’t come to Europe to eat a burger anymore than you would come to America to view ancient ruins. European menus are full of wonders, but you have to bring an adventuresome spirit to the table.

Europeans are closer to their food than we are. Literally. They eat and drink products that are grown or manufactured where they live, not a thousand miles away. And you can taste the difference. Plus, all of the dishes we take for granted over here (pizza, Béarnaise sauce, oeufs Romagna avec sauce Espagnole a pigeoneaux Romanoff jubilee) had their origins over there, and tasting the real enchilada where it was invented cannot be overstated as an epicurean experience.

Don’t be intimidated. English is spoken all over Europe these days — it’s a mandatory subject for schoolchildren — and between the English language menus and helpful waiters, you’ll rarely be at a loss for words, or some tasty morsel. The spry fellow we had at Trattoria Milanese (above) spoke better English than my Greek popou, and the waiter we had at our best bistro meal in Paris (at La Bourse et la Vie) was a bi-lingual chap from New Jersey.

Forget about cocktails. With a few exceptions (e.g. The Jerry Thomas Project in Rome, gin and tonics in Spain) cocktails are not a thing in Europe. They’ll pour you a vodka soda or expensive scotch in upscale hotels and bars (and at the corner cafe), but hard booze is to grape-centric Europe what digestivos are to the new world: not indigenous to the culture and something they struggle to understand.

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If you don’t know anything about wine, get the house wine by the glass or carafe. Societies steeped in wine culture don’t wallow in cheap, disgusting wine. (They blend, bottle and bequeath their plonk to us.)   Even the worst tourist traps in Rome and Paris serve decent stuff. All you have to know are the words for red (rouge or rosso), white (blanc or bianco) or pink (rosé) to drink fairly well.

If you know a little or a lot about wine, grab the list and go nuts. Bottles that go for hundreds over here can be had for 50 euros over there. My budget is usually in the 80-100 euro range, and invariably, a waiter or somm will look at my selection, and then point me to something just as good for half the price. On my recent trip, this happened on five consecutive days in Milan (Trattoria Milanese), Paris (Willi’s Wine Bar, Le Grand Véfour, Les Climats), and Verona (Pane e Vino).

Plan, plan, plan or just wing it. There are two ways to eat and drink your way around France and Italy: book everything in advance, or just walk around and see what looks good. I’ve done both and rarely been disappointed.

A compromise procedure involves doing your homework and making a list of addresses that sound interesting….and then cruising by to check them out. Only at the hoity-est of the toity will turn you away without a reservation.

Youngsters like to book everything through mobile app services (Michelin, La Fourchette, etc.), but many charming, out-of-the-way joints don’t subscribe to reservation services, and you’ll miss a lot of local flavor if you keep you nose in your phone and rely on your apps for everything.

I could go on and on. It’s been said that traveling is living intensified (actually, I think Rick Steves said that), and if it’s true, then traveling is eating intensified times ten. When you’re in a strange place known for its gastronomy, the flavors come into focus, aromas are sharper, textures linger, and the sensations are more vivid. Not for nothing do people fall in love over a bottle of wine on the Amalfi Coast, or re-evaluate the world’s beauty from their perch in a Parisian cafe. To paraphrase Hemingway: Europe is a moveable feast, and if you’re lucky enough to travel there, it will stay with you for the rest of your life.

 

Wine Tasting/Wine Snobbery

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“The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” – Aristotle

The famous 20th Century British wine writer Harry Waugh was once asked, “Have you ever mistaken a Burgundy for a Bordeaux?” “Not since lunch,” was his answer.

POMPOSITY AND PLEBES

Until it was withdrawn from the market as the worst idea since New Coke, the actual label description on the bottle of “The Handmaid’s Tale” wine read: “Completely stripped of her rights and freedom, Offred must rely on the one weapon she has left to stay in control — her feminine wiles. This French Pinot Noir is similarly seductive, its dark berry fruit and cassis aromatics so beguiling it seems almost forbidden to taste. But it’s useless to resist the wine’s smooth and appealingly earthy profile, so you may as well give in.”

And you wonder why people find wine pretentious?

It is pretentious, and at its upper levels, insufferable.

The only thing more pretentious than a person who knows a lot about wine is someone who knows a little.

Just as a little learning can be a dangerous thing, so can a modicum of wine knowledge/vocabulary turn an otherwise likeable person into the world’s biggest buffoon.

Many know this, which is why pricking oenophile pomposity is practically an indoor sport for some writers. It’s the food writing equivalent of shooting fish-faced drunks in a French oak barrel.

The easiest way to pander to the plebes is by knocking wines and wine snobbery.

“Most people prefer cheap wines to expensive ones!” the article blares. “Expensive wine is for suckers!” is always the subtext.

That’s true — in the sense that most people prefer a cheap, fast-food hamburger to a custom-made one, and any Taco Bell outsells my favorite hole-in-the-wall by 100-1 on any given day.

But the more you learn about wine (and tacos, for that matter), the more you come to appreciate the taste of an authentic, small-batch one.

A better example might be music. Everyone knows what they like, and a lot of people like really really shitty music. If all they’re doing is mindlessly enjoying some stupid pop tune, leave them to their ignorance. But once you know something about good music, your tastes expand beyond bubble gum, the enjoyment of what’s being listened to deepens.

Still, there’s no doubt that wine has brought a lot of this opprobrium on itself with its history of pretension, and all the currency it gives to arcane language, one-upmanship, and hi-falutin’ “experts” reciting laundry lists of scents and flavors.

The good news is: things have improved immeasurably over the past two decades. As new sommeliers, wine sellers and writers have entered the field, they’ve brought with them unbridled youthful enthusiasm, unencumbered by the elitist language of the past. Wine sellers (both in and out of restaurants) are eager to have you try new things, not rest on the laurels of the tried-and-true. This makes wine drinking much more fun and accessible to the average consumer.

Wine lists up and down The Strip have also become more diverse, and more consumer-friendly. Over-priced bottles of Cali cabs are still everywhere, but there seems to be a downward trend in pricing, with many new lists at places like Vetri and Cipriani sporting a sizeable number of bottles under a hundy. Not to mention places like Mordeo, EDO, Esther’s Kitchen, Partage and Lamaii — all of which are off-Strip with serious-yet-affordable wine programs. This type of competition wasn’t around a decade ago, and all of us are drinking better for it.

Things have also improved because we baby-boomers (who practically made the California wine industry) are getting too old to waste our time showing off about wine. Or maybe it’s because the interwebs have made buyers keenly aware of the real costs of the product. Nowadays, the new class of consumers (Gen-Xers and Millennials) can immediately scan a bottle (or a list) into a website that instantaneously gives you tasting notes, ratings, and the average retail price.

More informed customers make it harder to pawn off crappy $15 sauv blanc on an unsuspecting rube for $60. Yet another reason why sommeliers now take pride in great, unsung bottles at reasonable prices.

(Mexican wine: dusty and dark, needs food)

THE ABSURDITY OF SPECIFICITY

Yes, learning about wine is hard, but everything worthwhile is difficult when you first try it.

The thing about wine is how much fun the learning curve can be….as opposed to things like golf, needlepoint, or mountain climbing.

But once you climb even a small wine hill, you’ll find that the journey was worth it….even if bottles costing hundreds of dollars rarely are.

So it is with wine. You can drink cheap hooch to get drunk, or you can learn to appreciate the way good wine is made and all the factors that go into it.

The problem is: the people who know these things like to lord it over you like some imperious professor pooh poohing your term paper.

I find the whole “I’m getting peach pits, Meyer lemon zest, wet tobacco, gun-flint, hedgerow fruits and forest floor on the nose” nonsense to be a particular affliction affecting (mainly) insecure American sommeliers and head-up-their-ass wine writers. (This disease can be cured, but it takes years of deprogramming to get them out of their snooty little brains.)

“Hedgerow fruits”? Really?

And while we’re at it, how many people do you know who are familiar with 18th Century musketry?

Europeans, by and large, have a much healthier attitude towards wine. To begin with, they dispense with all the “peach pits, lemon zest, sour green apples” folderol, and use more emotional terms when describing a wine. To a Frenchman (or Englishman or Italian), wines may be feminine or masculine. Big and bold or soft and pleasant.

Aromatics might be “earthy” or “spicy” but no laundry list is necessary beyond that. Wine to them is an expression of fruit, and they generally avoid “blackcurrants, blackberries, ripe cherries, spearmint and cocoa powder” conversations…except when they’re talking to Americans.

I hear less lengthy recitals these days, and many more to-the-point descriptors like “grape-y,” “earthy,” “juicy,’ or “dense,” The whole point of those extravagant “smells like” recitations were always more for the professional tasters anyway, not for amateur enthusiasts. A wine tastes like itself, no matter what else it may resemble. Who gives a shit if you detect “hints of new mown hay,” “baking spices” (?), or “dessicated underbrush”?

Using a bunch of hyper-specific identifiers to describe a wine is like trying to describe a finished dish by listing the recipe ingredients.

All those descriptions are just metaphors. You might sense a whiff of strawberries, I might say “red fruits.” No one on earth really knows the difference between “dusty strawberries,” “wild strawberries,” and just plain “strawberries,” but that doesn’t keep those terms from being applied all the time….mainly to impress the listener (and the speaker with themselves).

So forget all that malarkey, and while you’re at it,  throw your tasting wheel in the trash.

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TASTING NOTATIONS

What I like to do is suggest to novice wine drinkers is that they develop their own vocabulary. Look for things you like in wine (like the fresh fruitiness of Gamay Beaujolais, for example), and use that as a benchmark to evaluate other reds. You’ll soon find that Cabernet Sauvignon has a muscularity that Gamay can’t match, and that those two wines hit the palate in a whole different (and darker) way than Pinot Noir does.

Once you learn a little about wine, drinking it becomes a lot more fun. Even if all you know is the difference between an oaked v. un-oaked Chardonnay, once you can make the distinction, your enjoyment is enhanced in the same way it is if an art historian explains Degas v. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec to you.

Keep certain things in mind:

  1. Wine tasting is the opposite of drinking wine.
  2. Drinking wine is about overall aromatic impact; tasting wine is about breaking down its components.
  3. Wine has a greater variety of styles than any other agricultural product.
  4. All you’re looking to do is decode a few essential elements of the wine.
  5. There is no right or wrong, there is only the tastes and aromas you are experiencing. The fact that you can’t immediately put a label on those sensations is of no consequence.
  6. Tasting wine is about sharpening your senses, and about finding words that convey the heightened information you are receiving
  7. It is perfectly possible to enjoy all wine – from the cheapest swill to the rarest bottles – without knowing or caring how to describe the sensations you experience.
  8. There are no right answers, and no matter how good you get, you will get things wrong. All. The. Time. (See Harry Waugh quote above.)
(The Wine Snob: hard at work at Bottega del Vino in Verona, Italy)

HOW I TASTE

Rather than tell you how to taste, I’ll tell you what I do. I’m no wine expert, even though I write about it, and have been reading, studying and drinking wine seriously for forty years. The experts are the wine makers and the professional tasters. To equate my talents with a sport: If wine tasting/appreciation were golf, I’d carry a low handicap, but there’s no way I could compete at the Masters.

First, look at the color – Bright? Dull? Sparkly? Dark red? Deeply colored, like blackberry juice? Squid ink? Or lighter, like raspberries? Some white wines are as yellow as the sun; others can resemble a crystal clear mountain stream. German Rieslings almost appear grey in the glass sometimes, Chablis gives hints of green.  Color isn’t something you can taste, but the range of hues of red, white and pink wines are so vivid, and so beautiful, you should never ignore them.

Then, swirl and stick that schnoz of yours deep into the glass – exception: sparkling wines – never swirl a bubbler.

(Remember: when you’re tasting wine, what you’re really doing is smelling it. Mouthfeel, bitterness, sweetness, grip on the side of your mouth (tannins) all play a role, but the nuances of grapes come through much more in their bouquet than in how they lie on your tongue. The previous sentence can be true, or completely false. Some wines taste like they smell, and some do not. Others emit wonderful aromas and go flat in the mouth. Like I said, there are no hard and fast rules, just individual sensations.)

Finally, take a small sip and hold it in your mouth and breath through your nose whilst sucking in a little air through your pursed lips.

Think to yourself: Is it strong? Weak? Intense? Flabby? Does it linger in the mouth? Pucker your tongue (that tannin thing again)? Does the flavor remain all the way to the back of your tongue? Or does it disappear quickly? A great Chardonnay (e.g., cru Burgundies) have a finish that lasts until next Tuesday. Great Rieslings literally sparkle on your tongue from their face-slapping acidity.

Don’t search for highly particular descriptive similes! Just think about what is pleasant or not so about it. Does it remind you a fruit pie? Of licking a wet rock? Do you like its sweetness? Is it too tart? (You may not like it at all. Wine is, in essence, spoiled, soured grape juice — preserved through fermentation — and not everyone’s cup of tea.)

Is there something unappealing about it? This may or may not be a flaw. I love German and Alsatian Rieslings, but they can give off strong whiffs of petrol or kerosene. Cabernet Franc can smell like green bell pepper? Some folks like New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs and their cat pee aromas: I find them ridiculous. Some Central Coast Pinot Noirs give off a slightly smokey nose. I love them; my wife (the long-suffering Food Gal®), does not.

Now comes the fun part, the most important part: Does your first sip make you want to keep drinking it? The priciest wine in the world isn’t worth it if you don’t want to have another glass. Some white wines have fruit so elusive you’d think the winemaker infused his water with iron ore. (These are some of the most expensive ones, BTW.) Huge Cali cabs can wear your palate out after a few sips. It’s all very personal. Go with your gut….or actually, your mouth.

Compare, compare, compare. Grab a glass of Central Coast chard, then make your next one a Chablis. Tasting them side by side will teach you a lot, even if you know nothing about how the wines are made.

Think about what you’re drinking. Is it in balance? Do fruit, bitterness, acid all knit together into a seamless whole? Or does one of these predominate?

The point is: Don’t try to dissect it; just try to identify what you like (or don’t like) about it.

TWO ESSENTIAL WINE WORDS

Use either of these the next time you want to watch the room empty after you take a sip of wine:

Organoleptic – aka “mouthfeel” – as in, “The organoleptics of this 1976 Fritz Blitzkreigmeinkampf Guttenjingleheimerschmitdtz Trockenbeerenauselese do not match those of the Layer Cake chard I polished off last night.”

Sapidity: defined in the dictionary as deliciousness, but used by (mostly Italian, some Spanish) winemakers to denote certain saline-mineral notes in a wine, such as, “Only a sap wouldn’t notice that the sapidity of this wine resembles licking an oyster shell dipped in potato chips.”

Finally, try to ignore the  super-annoying voice of the narrator and you’ll find some useful information in this video:

 

Enough Already 2018

It’s that time of the year, food fans: when the winter solstice descends and our mood grows dark and our prophesies portend.

When our thoughts turn not to festive merriment or seasonal meetings, but to over-baked puddings and gristly greetings.

Yes, it is when we are duty-bound to scream to the heavens,  for the world to hear, no matter how it  might frighten some timid reindeer.

These are the trends we hope soon to end…so that the New Year we pray…can finally make amends.

So without further ado, although some are not new, I hereby say to you:

ENOUGH ALREADY…

Smoked anything

Unless your name is Sonny and you’re tending a hickory pit, lose the smoke. Please.

Wood-fired everything

Yeah yeah yeah….you saw that dude on that Netflix series and he looked like some kind of god chopping his own wood and cooking everything but his profiteroles over it…but the whole idea only works if you’re, you know, like living out in the fucking forest or something. You’re not Paul Bunyan and most of that smoke gets sucked out the oven (thanks, health department!) before it even comes close to flavoring the vittles.

Craft IPAs

We get it: IPAs are cooler than lagers and you can hop them higher than a smack addict in the South Bronx (circa1971), but that doesn’t mean they taste good.

Sour beers

Leave them to the Belgians, please

Steakflation

The aged strip steak at Bavette’s was priced at a whopping $73 when it opened over the summer. Within three months they raised the price to $78. The original price was about 10% higher than the cost of the same steak in Chicago. The new price bumped that to a 20% premium. In Vegas, which is a much smaller town than Chicago, with (supposedly) a much cheaper cost of living (and labor force). Don’t let anyone ever tell you that Las Vegas isn’t the most expensive restaurant town in the country. It is also not a place to chow down on giant steaks anymore, unless you like taking your serious steaks where the sun don’t shine.

Pizza fetishization

With apologies to good friends John Arena, Mike Vakeen, Scott Wiener, Vincent Rotolo, Gio Mauro, Chris Decker, and a dozen others…the whole artisanal pizza thing has jumped the shark. As Steve Cuozzo says in the New York Post, the humble pie has been warped by the whole ‘”authenticity” thing…or cruel mutation.

Brussels sprouts and Beets

Chefs: we know you are duty bound to put edible plants out there, but can’t you find something else to round out your proteins?

Crazily-flavored ice creams

(This is what ice cream is supposed to look like)

Was the world begging for broccoli ice cream? Were orphans crying out for tuna fish gelato? What began as a novelty 4-5 years ago is now a tsunami of bad taste. Only the Instagram generation could ruin something as un-ruin-able as ice cream.

Caviar on everything

Caviar used to be a luxury food. Now it’s more ubiquitous than a Kardashian ass. There’s a reason chefs put it on things: to give the illusion of grandeur….when all they’re really doing is spooning some not-very-expensive farmed fish eggs from China, Brazil, Spain, etc. onto some dish that, 80% of the time, would be better without it. Duping the credulous hordes? You bet! Padding the bill? Absolutely! Worth it? Hardly ever. If I want fish eggs, I’ll eat them off a mother of pearl spoon all by themselves.

Liquor/Food matches

It’s gotten beyond ridiculous: Come to our four-course dinner paired with….Johnny Walker Scotch! Have you ever tried aged rum with rigatoni? Brandy with sea bass? Here we are, a restaurant on a slow night (usually a Tuesday), and some liquor distributor has talked our chef into preparing a wonderful multi-course extravaganza all based around….MEZCAL! Trying to drum up enthusiasm for a high-proof spirit by (ill) matching it with food is the worst idea since the canned cheeseburger.

Short ribs/beef cheeks

Both are the cupcakes of the savory world. Victims of endless permutations that rarely make sense, and so filling they rarely inspire a second bite. Beef cheek ravioli is the ultimate belt-and-suspenders combination that does an injustice to both.

Things in bowls

Here’s the short list of things you should eat in a ginormous bowl: Vietnamese pho, Chinese noodles, and weird Korean soups.

Eating in the dark

I actually liked the two meals I had at Bavette’s. I couldn’t see them, but I liked them.

Eating when you can’t hear

I know, I know: you want your restaurant to have a “party” vibe. Because everyone knows adults go out to eat not to put finely-cooked food in their mouths, but rather to “party”….just like the kids do…at Chuck E. Cheese. Everyone knows the drill now: you’ve got the restaurant pumped to ear-splitting levels to turn tables and sell more booze. You’re not fooling anyone anymore. Let’s all grow up a bit, shall we? It’s 2019, not 2010.

Chefs’ groovy “playlists”

If there’s been one benefit to the downfall of Mario Batali, it’s been that a chef imposing his musical tastes on his guests has finally lost whatever “cool” factor it once had.

900 bottles of booze on the wall

I love what they did to Scotch 80 Prime. I really like that gorgeous wall of 1,000 bottles behind the bar. I love the same thing at Sage and the hundreds of terrific tequilas at La Comida. But we’ve gotten into an arms race here both with the makers of strong booze and the restaurants that sell them. And it’s ridiculous. The world doesn’t need a thousand brands of tequila, and it got along just fine with a hundred quality scotches and a few dozen good bourbons. I don’t know what’s worse: the hyper-specificity (“aged in 37 year old fino sherry casks, consisting of re-toasted Andalusian birch bark bathed in the sweat of Rob Roy’s old peat marsh and only released by the light of a full moon in August”), or the con job promoted by the makers of “extremely rare” whiskys. I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that grown men (some of whom may be reading these words), couldn’t tell Pappy Van Winkle 20 year old from a dozen other premium brands. Hell, I bet the distiller himself couldn’t tell. That doesn’t keep them from perpetuating the myth of its “special-ness” when all it is is another fucking aged 90 proof whisky. Double yeesh.

Cannabis in your comestibles

If I want to get stoned, I’ll smoke a joint, thank you.

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A curmudgeon we may be, but a light we yonder see.

Some good things have returned, and for these we must no longer yearn.

And lest we be thought of as too persnickety, by jove we’re all excited about each of these most lickity.

Welcome back:

Grown-up dining

NoMad, Cipriani, Partage, and Vetri (above) are places for people with worldly palates, or aspirations to same. They are not for the party-as-a-verb crowd. Eataly is for those who either know about real Italian food, or want to learn about it. Uncomfortable chairs and small plates are not part of these equations.

Reasonable, thoughtful wine lists

As I’ve said before: the Las Vegas Strip is no place to find wine bargains, but the newbies on the block —   NoMad, Cipriani, and Vetri — all boast lists with plenty of drinkable bottles for under a hundy.  Mordeo, Partage, Sparrow + Wolf, and most of all, Esther’s Kitchen , all have bottles galore that are priced to sell, not show off.

Simple, elegant cocktails

Thank you, Jammyland, and continued thanks to the simple, elegant cocktails at NoMad, Scotch 80 Prime, Esther’s Kitchen and Vetri for continuing to stress simple sophistication over the complex and contrived..

Guéridons

Because who doesn’t love a rolling cart full of tasty delights?

Tableside pyrotechnics

Because who doesn’t love a performance with their food?

Dessert carts

Partage!!

Dressed up waiters

Cipriani!!

Real Italian food

(Casoncelli alla bergamasca at Vetri)

Has come roaring back into town. (see above)

Roast Chicken

Merci beaucoup, Daniel Humm.

Cheese

Molto grazie, Marc Vetri for including a cheese course with your nonpareil cuisine.

Good Barbecue

Sin City Smokers (above) sets the standard in the ‘burbs, Mabel’s brings a slice of authentic Austin to the Strip. Smoked meats are back with a vengeance. Everything else in town isn’t worth your time or the heartburn.

(Platter at Mabel’s)
HAPPY NEW YEAR from the staff at Being John Curtas:
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