Tag Archives: absinthe

USA Today’s Best Of Vegas: What year is this?

Strip view from atop the Paris Las Vegas replica Eiffel Tower

Strip view from atop the Paris Las Vegas replica Eiffel Tower

Last Friday, USA Today devoted the better part of a two-page spread on The Best of Las Vegas Nightlife, a pictorial written by Kitty Bean Yancey with the input of Vegas “panelists” Norm Clarke (Las Vegas Review-Journal  gossip columnist), Anthony Curtis (LasVegasAdvisor.com), Sarah Feldberg (Las Vegas Weekly), Oscar Goodman (outgoing Mayor of downtown  Las Vegas), Dan Hippler (Vegas.com), Jack Houston (Las Vegas Magazine), John Katsilometes (Las Vegas Sun), and Abby Tegnalia (VEGAS magazine).

I have to tell you, I was pretty dumbstruck by it. I had to check the date of the paper—and wonder how much input my colleagues actually had. Because without exception, every single one of the choices—most of which wouldn’t generally be considered ‘nightlife’ specifically—could have been made two years ago. If not longer. YAWN.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t disagree that all of the winners are deserving. But if you’re delivering a new article in a daily newspaper which has the word TODAY in its name, shouldn’t you be giving some information that is, well, new? Just for one example, shouldn’t you find a way to at least mention, even name-drop, the Cosmopolitan, the new resort which no one could deny has become an instant game-changer for the Strip? As a destination, Vegas is changing literally every week. If you want to be serious about covering it, you can’t give people information that’s six months old, or even six weeks.

So for those of you that saw it, and are visiting Las Vegas soon, let me offer some alternative Bests:

One of a gazillion images I've taken of the ever-changing displays at the Bellagio conservatory

One of a gazillion images I've taken of the ever-changing displays at the Bellagio conservatory

Best Attraction: USA Today’s winner, The fountains of Bellagio

First of all the category says Best Attraction, not Best Free Attraction. While there’s no denying that the fountains are a Must-See (if you can tolerate all the costumed freaks and protesters that now congregate in front of it), there are an awful lot of other interesting and fun diversions, including other water features at City Center and the Mirage volcano (both also by Bellagio fountain designers WET), the world-class art installations of City Center, Bellagio’s Conservatory, Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef, Tropicana’s Mob Experience, Imperial Palace’s massive Auto Collections, the list really does go on.

A seaweed tasting at Shibuya, MGM. Just one of HUNDREDS of amazing dishes I've eaten in Las Vegas.

A seaweed tasting at Shibuya, MGM. Just one of HUNDREDS of amazing dishes I've eaten in Las Vegas.


Best fine-dining restaurant: USA Today’s winner,  Joel Robuchon

Well of course, the French legend’s only North American fine dining spot (he has another L’Atelier in New York) is de rigeur, as it has been for the last six or so years. But what about all the new and notable restaurants in Aria and the Cosmopolitan, including Sage, American Fish, Scarpetta, Blue Ribbon, Jaleo, Estiatorio Milos and more? Then there’s Guy Savoy, Twist, Michael Mina, RM Seafood, Bartolotta,  Le Cirque, B&B… Vegas has so many truly great restaurants that choosing one “best” when there are so many close seconds is almost unfair.

Andrew Pollard working his magic at Vesper, Cosmopolitan

Andrew Pollard working his magic at Vesper, Cosmopolitan

Best Bar: USA Today’s winner, The Fremont East District Downtown

First of all, that’s not one bar, but a city block full of several cool spots including Beauty Bar, Don’t Tell Mama, The Griffin, Downtown Cocktail Room, The Vanguard, Insert Coins, and Emergency Arts. Which are all fun, but most of them aren’t much different than what you’d find in any typical small city (also, it’s the equivalent to declaring a food court “best restaurant”). If you had to pick one single bar?? I’d send you to Vesper or Chandelier at Cosmopolitan. But that’s just me. Oh wait, that’s not just me, actually. Locals and tourists alike are flocking to both.

Marquee Club press shot: Imagine this packed full of people with a famous DJ killin' it. You will never see it this empty.

Marquee Club press shot: Imagine this packed full of people with a famous DJ killin' it. You will never see it this empty.

Best nightclub: USA Today’s winner, TAO

TAO??? Sorry, but the TAO Group’s own new Marquee club in the Cosmopolitan leaves their original Vegas landmark in the dust, for DJs, ambiance, drinks, everything. Not even a contest.

Someone else's shot of the oh-so-sexy Pho Kim Long... nothing glamorous, but even Daniel Boulud said it was his favorite local spot when he was here.

Someone else's shot of the oh-so-sexy Pho Kim Long... nothing glamorous, but even Daniel Boulud said it was his favorite local spot when he was here.

Best locals’ value dining: USA Today’s winner,  Firefly on Paradise

Sure, Firefly presents passable tapas in a comfortable environment but seriously there are so many happy hour specials around town, you rarely hear anyone talk about hitting Firefly except as a standby. The real exciting scene in locals’ dining is on Spring Mountain, where all kinds of amazing Asian eateries flourish, including—in particular—Raku, Monta, Ichiza, and many Pho spots, none of which you have to make excuses for. Then there’s the unique Bachi Burger (no Angelenos, it is not the Umami Burger ripoff you think it is). If you had to pick one value spot that locals swear by? It’s Pho Kim Long. Duh.

the Finale of Absinthe from my cameraphone. it's a cluster**** in the best way possible.

the Finale of Absinthe from my cameraphone. it's a cluster**** in the best way possible.

Best show: USA Today’s winner,  The Beatles LOVE

Sure, LOVE—celebrating its 5th anniversary–is an amazing show, if you love Beatles music (and by the way, Yancey mentioned Paul and Ringo but neglected to note George Harrison’s integral involvment in making the show happen). But new show Absinthe, while not on the same scale, and much more adult, is also an impressive only-in-Vegas attraction. Then there’s Cirque du Soleil’s O, Jersey Boys, Human Nature, Garth, Celine… what am I forgetting? A lot, actually.

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Best strip club: USA Today’s winner,  Spearmint Rhino

Since I don’t frequent strip clubs, I can’t really comment on this. But every time someone recommends “the Rhino,” which yes, is most popular with locals by far, I ask them “how many other strip clubs have you checked out, and how exactly are you judging them?” Crickets.

Pebble Beach: The Ripple Effect

PBFWDriscollsGirl

In the realm of prominent Food & Wine festivals, few have the cache of Pebble Beach—and it isn’t hard to see why. Take the muscle of American Express Publishing—Food&Wine magazine, Departures, Executive Travel ($$$) and combine it with the captive audience of one of the richest private developments in the country ($$$$) and, well, you do the math (and after you do, add a few more zeros). Lexus, the event’s major sponsor, certainly did.

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PBFW has such a remarkable list of participating chefs that the event program feels like a yearbook. No wonder everyone’s getting them autographed as I entered the Grand Tasting tent(s) on April 30. I had originally wanted to attend more of the four-day event, but considering how overwhelming this turned out to be, it’s probably best that my introduction to the festival focused on the one afternoon.

There are famous chefs, and working chefs (sometimes both) in every direction you turn, doling out small elegant bites of every savory and sweet description. For a foodie, this is something like nirvana.

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Relative proximity to Napa and Sonoma wine countries also amps up the winery participation. While wine tends to be an also-ran at most “Food and Wine” fests—usually corporate-heavy,  typically poured without context—here there are big brands (Trefethen) next to cherished favorites (Perrin et Fils) next to semicults (Paul Hobbs, Paradigm) emerging regions (Ribera del Duero) next to intriguing upstarts (Sonoma’s Scribe, Willamette’s Antica Terra). Driscoll’s berries—based nearby—are one of the largest food brands represented  (Kerrygold butter, AndyBoy produce are two others) with a huge display of their gorgeous fruit, also being handed out cocktail-style by some appetizing servers.

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Serving chefs included Akira Back, Andre Bienvenu, Clark Frasier & Mark Gaier, Stephen Pyles, Michael Schwartz,  Michael Symon, Sherry Yard and literally dozens more. Others like Michel Richard and David Myers, who helmed larger events, were checking out colleagues.

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Still, many stands had irksome lines, some ran out of food, and so like many attendees I expect, I found myself editing by whim. The proliferation of similar events around the country, and world, has probably resulted in ennui for more than a few of these chefs, thus some bites were more impressive than others.

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What I will remember most: Tim Love’s rabbit and rattlesnake tamales; Michael Ginor’s lovely plating of two foie gras (from his renowned Hudson Valley company) and charcuterie; Kent Torrey’s endlessly remarkable table of uncommon cheeses from his shop in Carmel; and Shawn McClain’s just-because Absinthe Taffy.

EGMartinDarazHighlndPkScotchPBFW

Also, Highland Park’s Martin Daraz has to be the world’s greatest ambassador of Scotch Whisky. He makes you want to just bathe in the stuff.

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Afterward, I was able to sneak in a few more events: Got to see Jacques Pepin and his daughter Claudine perform their comedy routine—I mean, prepare some lovely egg dishes. Considering the lack of true personalities on Food TV these days, I found myself wishing they would have a show together. They are truly hilarious to watch.

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I also snuck over to the Inn to take in the Marcassin wine tasting. But as Helen Marcassin herself was a no-show (pretty sure that was the drawing card for the event), instead I joined the blind tasting of cabs led by Rajat Parr (Mina Group restaurants) with fellow somms Damon Ornowski, Dustin Wilson, Emily Wines and SF Chronicle’s Jon Bonne (and Laura Maniec MS chiming in from the audience). The seven selections offered a wide variety of expression—2006 Silver Oak and ’05 Chateau Palmer Alter Ego were among them—but to me the most interesting turned out to be a citrusy, fresh Greg Norman. Go figure! Almost none of the wines were accurately identified by the way, indicating what a variety of expression in terroir and winemaking exists today.

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Then I realized the real scene was the Inn’s patio bar, where F&B rainmaker Lee Schrager and TV Chef Guy “Badboy” Fieri were holding court amid a wonderland of chef whites. Fieri apparently didn’t get the dress code memo, but I suppose it was nice of him to make sure that nobody, but nobody, would ever mistake him for, say, Charlie Trotter or Thomas Keller. Which I guess makes sense, since I can’t imagine anyone ever mistook his former restaurant Johnny Garlic’s for the French Laundry.

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Look for other blogs on the festival from:

Al Mancini

Rona Lewis

Table Hopper SF

Shutterbean

Kamran, the 18-year-old “Sophisticated Gourmet”