Garner and Jessica Alba in "Valentine's Day"
GOOD NEWS! Esquire.com now has a new food section called "Eat Like a Man," which will be featuring restaurant articles by John Mariani and others from around the USA. THIS WEEK: WHERE TO EAT ON ST. VALENTINE'S DAY
Living High in Las Vegas
by John A. Curtas
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
MARGAUX: The Gold Standard of Bordeaux
by Brian Freedman
Living High in Las Vegas
by John A. Curtas
you'd expect for a city with so much moolah sloshing
around, Las Vegas is home to some of the best and
most expensive restaurants in the world. If you've
won big at the tables or need a way to restore your
spirit, these are the places to go.
most fundamentally French restaurant in town, Guy
Savoy's food is rarely less than perfect. His wine
list is probably the city's best, both in
breadth and depth, and it's filled with trophy bottles
from Savoy's cellar in Paris, as well as a large
selection of reasonably priced New World producers. No
matter what you choose, you can depend on Savoy's food
being spot-on renditions of the dishes that earned his
restaurant three Michelin stars in Paris, such as
gelée (Kumamotos atop oyster cream
topped with oyster jelly) and poulet en cocotte,
the creamiest, whitest veal chop on the planet. Savoy
features no beef in his Parisian original, but he's
proud of his tournedos here, as well as the American
veal plated and served by the top-notch
courses $80-$175, 10-course tasting menu $298. Open
Tue-Fri. for dinner only.
is only place to go in Las Vegas for sushi and
sashimi--when someone else is paying. The quality of
the raw ingredients (most flown in from Japan) is an
immediate education in the subtleties that comprise a
superior Japanese dining experience. The size of your
pocket and your sensibilities will determine whether
you think paying $15 apiece for toro tuna, or $10
apiece for akamutsu
(deep-sea snapper), or $34 for a kegani hairy-crab
is worth it. Ignore the gymnasium feel of the place
and be dazzled by the dancing shrimp, whitefish
sampling platter, yari
ika (squid) or the kanpachi with jalapeño sotomaki,
each one more ethereal than the last. Average main courses
$26-$38, sushi from $6 per piece, early-evening set
menu $49. Open
Wed-Sun. for dinner only.
Is this the best of scores of
high-end steakhouses in Vegas? Wolfgang Puck's
offshoot from the Beverly Hills original certainly
serves up the most inventive non-steak dishes. Everything from
the pristine oxtail broth to the bone-marrow flan to
the hot potato knishes to the lamb chops with a
to the thyme-lavender roasted duck to the classic
Dover sole are the equal of the prime grass- and
corn-fed beef on offer. In fact, some tables skip the
steaks entirely and make a meal from the stunning
small plates, appetizers and sides. The wine list,
under sommelier Lindsey Whipple, has vastly improved
in the past two years, both in selection and price. Starters from $17,
steaks from $51; open daily for dinner only.
Chef/owner Costas Spiliadis seems to be on the premises for a remarkable amount of the time for a man who has restaurants on two continents. This offshoot of the Montreal original (others reside in New York and Athens) has a serene elegance that strikes you as soon as you enter the low-ceilinged, softly lit space and is detected in every refined, discriminating ingredient placed before you. The two-page menu has 11 appetizers on the left side, five salads and vegetables on the right, and a single heading that says simply From The Sea, leading you to the huge fish/seafood/vegetable counter against the far wall, where the day's catch is displayed for you to peruse and choose from. Main courses $40-75. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Paris doesn't have one. Neither does London or New York. Only Vegas has the eponymous dining salon named after and run by "The Chef of the Century" (well, according to Gault-Millau back in 1990). As stale as the accolade might be, there is nothing tired about the food being turned out at this exquisite, relentlessly French jewel box in the bowels of the MGM Hotel. Bring money and an appetite, because you'll need both to support the ornate, precise, and highly decorative food being turned out by Joël's chief lieutenant, Claude Le Tohic. Between them, they create seasonal menus of impeccable provenance. Whether it's Australian spiny lobster in a Thai herb broth, or "chaud-froid" (hot-cold) sea urchin on a fennel/potato puree flecked with anise-spiked orange, this is over-the-top cooking that makes no apologies for its extravagance. Two-course menu $120, three-course menu $160, 16-course tasting menu $425. Open nightly for dinner.
de Joël Robuchon MGM Grand Hotel
MGM Grand Hotel
Begin at the sleek counter with crisp langoustine fritters served with a smudge of basil pesto. From there the possibilities range from good prosciutto served with toasted tomato bread, ethereal poached Kumamoto oysters sitting in their shells in a warm bath of salted butter, to a beautiful piece of sautéed duck liver atop a tiny minced-citrus gratin. L'Atelier is hands-down the favorite "everyday" casual restaurant of every chef and foodie in Vegas. It's expensive (though far less expensive than its big brother next door), but almost flawless. Every dish highlights what perfectionist chefs--in this case executive chef Steve Benjamin and pastry chef Kamel Guechida--can do with the best ingredients money can buy. Main courses from $59, seasonal discovery tasting menu $155. Open nightly for dinner.
Executive chef Gregory Pugin took the helm here early in 2011, bringing a modern, lighter sensibility to Le Cirque's food that was long overdue. You can still get classics like blanquette de lapin and Le Cirque lobster salad, but one bite of his langoustines with caviar, passion fruit, apples and vodka gelée will bring tears to the eyes of even the most jaded gourmets. The service staff is virtually unchanged in 12 years, sommelier Freddy Montandon still charms the ladies while convincing the captains of American industry to order something other than a boring old California cab, and the whole place buzzes with an intimacy that is without peer in Sin City. Save room for Philippe Angibeau's drop-dead desserts. Main courses $39-$65, seven-course tasting menu $125. Open Tues-Sun. for dinner only.
the only restaurant in the world where the art detracts
from the food and where you routinely see diners
walking around the room and treating it like a
mini-museum of the master's works. (Yes, they are all
originals.) In the kitchen, Julian Serrano (right) serves up
Cal-Ital-Mediterranean cooking has earned him a
devoted following of foodies, who rave about the
sweetest Nantucket scallops you'll ever taste and his
various masterful treatments of foie gras. The wine
list, overseen by Master Sommelier Robert Smith, is
rich with the varietals of Spain and other
Mediterranean climes. For food, wine, and décor
of this caliber, the tariff--$113 for four courses,
$123 for five--plus an amuse-bouche here and a pre-dessert
there--is remarkably reasonable. Open Wed-Mon. for
If Robuchon is the most elaborate and
Savoy the most elegant of Vegas's great restaurants,
them for the creativity of its cuisine, which is often
as baffling as it is exhilarating. One look at his
scallop carpaccio with Campari or mushroom broth tells you that
you're in the hands of the enfant terrible (right) of French
cooking. The years haven't dimmed Gagnaire's incessant
search for astounding edibles and his Nebraska sirloin
with escargot sauce and venison ice-cream provides a
window into the intellectual curiosity that drives his
courses $44-98, three-course menu $105, six-course
tasting menu $189. Open nightly for dinner.
John Curtas is a Vegas-based restaurant critic and food writer. This article originally appeared in different form in The Guardian.
There is a Vai in Soho that I have not been to, so I can't compare it with the new version on the Upper West Side, where Chef/owner/wine director/pastry chef,' etc, etc, etc, Vincent Chirico is doing a splendid job bringing a version of his Italian/Mediterranean cuisine to a modest-looking, brick-walled trattoria in need of one this good, this imaginative, and so reasonably priced.
Chirico's culinary résumé includes stints at Aquavit, Jean Georges, and Daniel, and there is clear finesse in every dish at the new Vai, which is casual and warmhearted, with a horseshoe butcher block bar, where they serve brunch and signature cocktails, pretty glass hanging lighting and sconces, leather banquettes, and chiffon curtains that balance out the hard brick textures. Small in size, it is loud when full, so there's no reason to add background music to the mix. But they do.
The raw crudo items at the top of the menu are a pleasant surprise and offer some of the best eating here, from hamachi and yellowfin tuna perkily set atop sweet avocado with a preserved ginger sauce (left) that provides a subtle tingle to the pure taste of the fish; jumbo fluke ceviche with sweet onion, jalapeño and mint chili arbol has some snap too. Move on to appetizers like charred but tender octopus with a jalapeño pesto and crisp potatoes, another example of how to add zest without overpowering anything on the plate. Sautéed Gulf shrimp of considerable heft came with chorizo and a nicely seasoned soffrito.
We tried three pastas that included a perfectly al dente tagliatelle with a rich veal ragù, shards of ricotta salata, a touch or oregano and oven-roasted tomato, this last adding sweetness to the already complex ragù. Ravioli was plumped up with soft-centered burrata cheese then lavished with truffle cream and parmigiano--as magnificent and munificent dish as I've had all year. Spaghettini came with briny New Zealand cockles and the true Mediterranean taste of preserved lemon and a jolt of Calabrian chili-garlic. Everything on Vai's menu--which changes about 25 percent each week--has notes and counter-notes of flavors and textures.
Being so Mediterranean, Vai's main courses are dominated by the sea, and we thoroughly enjoyed sautùed filet of Maryland jumbo black bass with a buttery leek puree and tasty Niçoise olive tapenade. (Butter plays a key role in his fish cookery, underpinning the other flavors.) Branzino was roasted whole, served with preserved lemon, chervil and a beurre noisette, while fat sea scallops (right) were very gently pan-roasted and came with an elegant, mousseline of parsnips and a dash of Sicilian capers.
Desserts are not just an afterthought: though few in number they are well wrought, like Vai's light, lovely semi-freddo. There is also a judicious cheese selection. Vai's wine list is well thought through for the Mediterranean flavors here, and very decently priced.
If you're on the Upper West Side around 5:30 PM, maybe after a visit to the Museum of Natural History or New York Historical Society nearby, or you want to eat small dishes before theater or after, Vai is ideal, with an early evening menu at $29. It's even better if you take your time over dinner, and well worth a trip from midtown; Soho has its own Vai to take care of the rest of the population.
Vai is open daily for dinner; Crudo and appetizers $9-$15, pastas $15-$17, main courses $18-$29; 5-Course Chef’s Menu $59, with wine $89; Mon. night prix fixe menu with wine $39.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
MARGAUX: The Gold Standard of Bordeaux
by Brian Freedman
in terms of reputation, can fairly be compared to
Chanel, Steven Spielberg, and
Ferrari. All four of them, after all, possess a cachet
so instantly recognizable
that even people who have never experienced them
first-hand recognize their
quality and importance. Their reputations, in other
words, have lifted them
above and beyond the confines of their specific
categories: A Chanel dress is
more than an item in a woman’s wardrobe, just as a
film by Spielberg is
(usually) more than a pleasant way to spend a few
hours in the dark and a
Ferrari is so much more than a really fast car.
Explore wine country with Brian Freedman, nationally acclaimed chef Daniel Stern of R2L Restaurant, and wine writer Ben Weinberg on the Wine on the Road ultimate tour of Champagne, France, including behind-the-scenes access to top winemakers and their incomperable wines, luxury accomodations, Michelin-starred meals, and more. For more information, visit wineontheroad.com/champagneunfiltered.php <http://wineontheroad.com/champagneunfiltered.php> , or attend the wine dinner at R2L on March 5th at 7pm for details and an exclusive offer. $145/person, including food and wine. Call 215.564.5337 for reservations.
BLOCK THAT (EXTENDED) METAPHOR!
"`The British are leaving, the British are leaving,' the locals shouted. Well, maybe not. But it was a bit of a shock when the Pub pulled out of Rocky River in August. The Brit-pub was a dandy ol' chap, complete with fish, chips, Boddington's, soccer on the tube and the Kinks on the sound system. For whatever reason, the colonists didn't take to it. Hence, Burntwood Tavern: a place that opts for less flair and a comfy, rustic vibe common to Rocky River spots."----John Petkovic, Cleveland Plain Dealer.
OH. . . NEVER MIND.
Chef Scott Bagshaw of Deseo restaurant in Winnipeg was so disappointed not to make Free Press food critic Marion Warhaft's annual top 10 list that he wrote, "I tweeted it so now I'm gonna Facebook it. Marion retire you ignorant slut." When asked by a reporter why she had not put Deseo on her list, she said, "There's only one reason he wasn't on the list: I haven't reviewed his new restaurant. If I haven't done a full review, I can't put it on my top-10 list."
Any of John Mariani's
books below may be ordered from amazon.com.
❖❖❖FEATURED LINKS: I am happy to report that the Virtual Gourmet is linked to four excellent travel sites:
Everett Potter's Travel Report:
I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, ForbesTraveler.com and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star places as five-star experiences." THIS WEEK: MOHONK HOUSE, NYS; CLOUD NINE IN ASPEN.
Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio. He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at KNPR.org. Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.
Tennis Resorts Online: A Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991).
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