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1997 IN REVIEW

Last week we cited those hyper-theme palaces for raising restaurant ugliness to a new level in 1997. This week we'll ignore these architectural atrocities (if that's possible)-and focus on the good and the bad in restaurants over the past year.

When it comes to bad dining out-nothing comes close to the non-eating "experience" we continue to endure along Fremont Street. Until some wiley accountant decides that Reba MacIntire and Mr. Spock can sell cheeseburgers from a rain-forest-friendly chopper-it'll remain Las Vegas' favorite venue for those on a diet.

But those seeking the truly bad-as opposed to the on-existent-look no further than the intersection of I-95 and Lake Mead Boulevard. Awful semi-fast food and lots of it make this over-commercialized eyesore the ideal eating place for fools and their money. It's no wonder then that the worst idea for a restaurant ever conceived is located right in the heart of this franchise forest. Yes-it's unanimous-Joe's Crab Shack wins the food for thought distasteful" award for the lousiest restaurant of 1997. This shack truly deserves its name-for serving pathetic, overbreaded and deep-fried everything-and for bringing a slice of that cultural mecca-Galveston, Texas, to our lonely desert.

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On a brighter note-the good in dining out may still be outweighed by the bad-but some serious cooks and owners moved here in the past year-and some old reliables continue to thrive in the face of the chain-link-theme-scene.

BEST NEW RESTAURANT: Drai's-which brings a touch of class and Hollywood to a corner in need of both.

BEST ETHNIC RESTAURANT: Habib's for consistently showing Las Vegans what good Mediterranean food looks and tastes like. And finally:::::: (drum roll);

THE RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR goes to the Palace Court at Caesar's Palace. This venerable war horse has been rejuvenated by Chef Laurent Tourondel-and now serves the best French food Las Vegas has ever tasted.

This is John Curtas wishing you a happy New Year and promising to finally take the gloves off and tell it like it is in 1998.

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