“Nothing,” Voltaire said, “would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.”
A couple hundred years later, that notion could serve as a motto to the many quarantine-weary Americans who’ve begun tentatively emerging — or, in some cases, recklessly propelling themselves, sans masks or common sense — into the dining scene again, ready to go from necessity back to pleasure. Perhaps you’ve pushed your home-cooking ingenuity as far as it’ll go; you’re tired of gnawing on your own sourdough. You’re lucky to still have the means in this economy, and you’re ready to enjoy eating again.
Donald Contursi is waiting for you. Best known for his Lip Smacking Foodie Tours (guided group excursions to culinary hot spots on the Strip and Downtown, on hiatus but set to resume July 1), he’s launched a new, more intimate — and, crucially, self-guided — set of tours of Downtown restaurants. Limited to parties of two or four, who walk between the venues without a chatty guide breathing on them, Finger Licking Foodie Tours are ideal for this cautious, distanced moment. “We’re looking to add value at a time like this,” Contursi says.
The first program is set on and around Fremont East. You begin with a slate of dishes at Carson Kitchen (pictured). Then you amble over to Therapy for another round. Done there, you loiter in Container Park for a few minutes, then wrap up at 7th & Carson. Each restaurant serves preselected signature dishes, removing menu uncertainty and the tiresome what do you recommend haggling. Takes two-and-a-half hours.
The second tour, similarly structured and launching July 1, is set in the Arts District and whirls you through Esther’s Kitchen, Jammyland, and Cornish Pasty, with a short stop at “Chain Migration,” a politically charged mural by artist Izaac Zevalking.
Both tours cost $79; you can add a prepaid cocktail package and get discounts on additional items at each place. Along the way, a perky online voice-over narrates the pertinents of each location: history, the chef’s background, relevant cultural details.
Contursi sees himself as a kind of matchmaker between potentially loyal patrons and restaurants that could use them, especially now. “They just need someone to make the introduction,” he says.
There are a lot of unseen logistics behind the tours. To give the experience a VIP air, it’s precisely timed so guests needn’t wait in line for their tables; because it’s prepaid, you just get up and go when you’re done. Such arrangements are tricky to executve and require a lot of trust between Contursi and the eateries.
In his view, these self-guided tours fall squarely within Las Vegas’ tradition of reinventing its way out of trouble. As our economy sags through this post-quarantine but pre-vaccine period, he senses a new (and probably long-lasting) niche comprising people who want a Vegas dining experience — but with a new overlay of germ-aware prudence. “It’s about the experience,” he says. And when the coronavirus eventually wanes and the masks come off for good? Well, it’ll still be “the ultimate date night.”