Desert Companion

What’s to Love

Three conversations about food, art, and the outdoors in Las Vegas

 

Food

John Curtas, dining critic, and Alexandria Dazlich, foodie and director of government affairs for the Nevada Restaurant Association, on guilty pleasures and memorable meals in Las Vegas:

John: I’ve never admitted this to anybody but my wife. I will tell you my guilty pleasure: the double cheeseburger at Del Taco. Speaking as a food snob who’s about nothing but the most, pretentious, exclusive food, Del Taco makes a mean-ass cheeseburger.

Alexandria: I get it! It’s not always about having the most artisan food. You’ve got your Southern food, your comfort food, different flavors for every day. That’s why the Vegas scene is so great. Have you checked out Café Berlin?

John: Sausage-fest! Sauerbraten, weisswurst, bratwurst, everything! I’m a German freak. Talk about spaetzel, potato pancakes, and big, thick piece of roast beef. It’s the most elementally satisfying food in the world!

Alexandria: Their sides are even great — they have that red cabbage, it’s not too pickly. It’s unassuming, but in-your-face. Even the decor! Everything’s a bench, everything’s utilitarian, it’s like, “Here’s your food,” but the food is incredible.

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John: We get there about once a year, and we have grand time — those ice-cold German beers are great. But tell me, what’s been your most memorable meal in Las Vegas?

Alexandria: When I first moved Downtown, I just popped into Bajamar, and that place blew me away. The baja-style tacos, the hibiscus lemonade, the calamari chicharrónes, and octopus tacos. Unbelievably fresh. I was scooping up the cabbage afterwards and licking the sauce!

John: My most memorable meal story: This was 2010 or 2011, when Las Vegas Uncork’d was our food festival. Everybody was here, all the celebrity chefs. And I went with the editor of Bon Appétit magazine. We had a private table at Guy Savoy in Caesars Palace. The whole restaurant was full of foodies. Had a Michelin three-star French chef serve us a wild eight-pound turbot that’s the size of the top of your desk. He did a pumpkin soup with white truffles. He brought out lièvre à la royale, basically a rabbit cooked in its own blood. Sounds terrible, but it tastes like the richest wine sauce you’ve ever tasted! Having the chef serve us course after course with the editor of Bon Appétit, and these nationally known wine guys and all the foodies, for a guy like me, it’s like walking on the moon!

Hear more of their recent conversation on KNPR’s State of Nevada.

 

Art

Elizabeth Quiñones-Zaldaña, poet, and Chase McCurdy, artist and educator, on how Vegas inspires creativity:

Elizabeth: One of the things that jumps out to me when I think about Las Vegas and my own writing is the fabulous ordinariness of living in Las Vegas. It’s a place where, you know, dishwashers’ daughters live their lives, they raise their children, they deal with loss, and they celebrate with each other. All of those kinds of things. It’s a place where each one of those instances, each one of those images really, you could go very deep in imagining, imagine them through narrative, through poetry, through the visual arts Obviously, the natural landscape is just incredibly fertile as well.

Chase: I’m happy you said “ordinariness.” Everyone has an initial reaction when they think of Las Vegas, and when you say, “I’m from Las Vegas,” peoples’ eyes get big, and I’m like, no, it’s a place to go to work. In that way, I found it also makes a fantastic place to practice art. It’s a quiet place to work, observe, and experience. And that’s not even to speak of, as you say, the natural landscape. How does the natural landscape come up in your work?

Elizabeth: It comes up often. And I’m never trying to write “Las Vegas poetry,” but obviously, place always rises. So, mountains, the way they hem in, the way divide, the way they stand as symbols as time and history, and people coming and going. And I think of other mountains. I wasn’t born here; I came from California, like so many people. So when I look at the mountains, I look at other mountain ranges from memory, from where I come from, and where my family is, in Mexico, and in other places in the world. And I think about how there’s a continuity there. And there’s a lot of longing bound up in that.

Chase: One of the big things that Las Vegas allows me to experience in my art practice — and which is really kind of an overarching idea that I live my life in pursuit of — is freedom. You know, you’re free to experiment. You’re free to try new things. You’re free to be alone in your work. You’re free to go be in desert, right, the desert as a place of immense freedom. F

Hear more of their recent conversation on KNPR’s State of Nevada.

 

Outdoors

Laura Pisciotta, rock climber and river guide, and Joshua Contois, Desert National Wildlife Refuge ranger, discuss Nevada’s outdoor treasures:

Laura: Everyone comes out to Vegas in the middle of the summer, and they think that’s the best time to do anything here. But we just have these really nice, mild winters where you can go down to Black Canyon, with hot springs just everywhere. And that’s the best time to explore those canyons, or just do any hiking around Vegas.

Joshua: My supervisors said Vegas is kind of “opposite season,” whereas in winter for everyone else, they’re sitting inside and not really doing much. Winter out here, everyone wants to get outside, do the hiking, do the climbing. I took a swim in that (Black Canyon) river just a few weeks ago.

Laura: It feels good, even in the winter. Fifty-three degree water!

Joshua: It was brisk, to be sure! We went down out by Lake Mead, soaked for a good, long while, which is incredible. I didn’t realize there was actually a hot pool right next to the river. I went for some of the river, froze, and then jumped back in the hot pool to warm back up.

Laura: Pretty much all the sub-canyons near the dam there in the first four miles, there are hot springs in almost all those canyons, and a couple you can hike down to, and then a lot of them you can get to only by kayak. It’s nice when you want to get away from people and explore.

Joshua: And it’s about more than just the hot springs. I think a lot of people, they hike there because they’re trying to get to a destination. For me, it’s the journey, it’s the trail. I was just as enamored by the geology and the rock formations of these canyons, and I kept looking at the little plants around on the side or, the little side canyons and little alcoves, like, what’s living up in there? I was so excited just to think of the possibilities what might be around the next corner. And, you know, I’ve never lived anywhere else that has this kind of wildness so close to a major urban area. The fact that you can go from Las Vegas and be at these hot springs, or at the slot canyons, or on this major river within 30 minutes or less is pretty remarkable.

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