... your duck tongue, your chicken gizzards and your pigs’ feet here. The valley’s more unusual meats are carni-licious!
As a professional diner, I’ve had more than my share of meals that resemble the offerings at a mediocre wedding. Don’t get me wrong — any dinner that involves the three Cs (Caesar salad, chicken breast, chocolate cake) can be perfectly satisfying. But in a town that touts itself as a global dining destination, it would be nice to see such pedestrian options balanced with riskier dishes.
The good news is that opportunities for adventurous eaters do exist — you just have to know where to look. Some require careful reading, lest you miss the tongue-and-cheek pierogi on the menu at Public House. Other unusual experiences, like the goat at Tasty Island, require a trek to nondescript shopping plazas. With wedding season approaching, there’ll be plenty of time for filet mignon and roast chicken down the road — now’s the time to hunt for some truly fresh meat.
Viva China taco at China Poblano
José Andrés’ Chino-Latino mash-up is one of the most imaginative casual concepts on the Strip. For conservative guests, there are plenty of safe bets such as queso fundido, fried wontons and Caesar salad (of course!). But a taco menu that includes duck tongue with fresh lychees and braised baby pig with pork rinds is probably unlike anything in your average abuelita’s recipe box. And the Viva China, made with crispy beef tendon, a raw Kumamoto oyster and Szechuan peppercorn sauce, is one of the best and most unique bites I’ve had in the last year. (The Cosmopolitan, 702-698-7900, chinapoblano.com)
Pierogi at Public House
Oh, look: Caesar salad, roast chicken and chocolate cake. The requisite dishes are all on offer at this trendy gastropub, and I am sure they’re well-made. But if you’re finally ready to break the cycle of predictability, order the beef tongue-and-cheek pierogi. The hearty dumplings — a kind of Polish twist on potstickers — are surprisingly refined. A tender filling of braised tongue and cheek stand in for the usual leaden mashed potatoes, and a pool of wine-spiked butter sauce serves as a tasty alternative to traditional applesauce. It’s an ideal way to prep your stomach before sampling the restaurant’s excellent whiskey selection. (The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian, 702-407-5310, publichouselv.com)
Crispy sweetbreads at B&B Ristorante
For “low cuts” and guts in fine dining form, this Mario Batali restaurant is the city’s foremost destination. Warm lamb’s tongue and Roman-style tripe are dishes that will immediately catch any offal-lover’s eye — and those are just the appetizers. For your entrée, skip the spaghetti for a plate of crispy sweetbreads. Yes, that’s the pretty and palatable term for a calf’s pancreas and thymus glands, but don’t let that discourage you. At their best, the tender morsels of tissue are fondly compared to a chicken nugget. (The Venetian, 702-266-9977, bandbristorante.com)
Curry goat roti at Tasty Island
During an eight-month stint in the Caribbean, I quickly grew accustomed to a steady diet of jerk chicken and festival, or Jamaican fry bread. This hole-in-the-wall is one of the few restaurants in the entire city that can supply my fix when I’m feeling nostalgic. Tripe with beans and cowfoot soup are just a few of the typical island dishes you can sample, but for the uninitiated, the tender curry goat is a safer entry-level dish. Served in spicy brown gravy, it’s a gamier version of classic beef stew. Don’t forget to order a side of flaky roti (flatbread) — it’s required for sopping up any curry that’s left on your plate. (6820 W. Flamingo Road, 702-222-0002, tastyislandlv.com)
Kushi (assorted skewers) at Kyara Japanese Tapas
If I had any say, I would gladly forsake our city’s all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants to make way for more izakayas. (It’s a simple formula: take meat on sticks, add ice-cold beer.) This particular tavern, run by the owners of Naked Fish, is a personal favorite for its selection of unusual proteins. Quell queasy friends with grilled chicken and shrimp; then, unleash your own inner caveman with skewers of beef tongue, chicken skin and gizzards. And be sure to save room if you have a sweet tooth, because yes, there’s a delightful chocolate cake for dessert. (6555 Jones Blvd., 702-434-8856, kyaraizakaya.com)
Zampone at Echo & Rig
Want to experiment with nose-to-tail cooking at home? It’s doable, but again, it requires a little extra work. This means skipping the bland, factory-farmed pork tenderloin from your nearest supermarket and supporting smaller butchers. At Echo & Rig, zampone, or stuffed pig’s feet, are available through the restaurant’s first-floor retail shop. The traditional Italian dish is not only impressive; it’s also said to bring good luck to those who eat it — an apropos incentive for the food lovers of Las Vegas. (Tivoli Village, 702-489-3525, echoandrig.com)