Desert Companion

Personal Best: Chefs and foodies pick their 2011 faves

Jim BegleyJim Begley,
dining critic for the Las Vegas Weekly, David magazine

Most Thai restaurants in town serve Americanized fare with diluted flavors. Not the case with newly opened David Wong’s Pan Asian (2980 S. Durango Drive, 629-7464) where, for my money, they’re serving the valley’s best Thai food this side of Lotus of Siam. Just one bite of their pad see yew, a street food favorite, and you’ll understand. Typically, this wide noodle dish isn’t wok-fried for long enough, resulting in less caramelization and characteristic smokiness. Who wants less? With David Wong’s rendition, the noodles are the perfect combination of smoke and sweet — and thoroughly addictive.


Misti YangMisti Yang,
Yelp Las Vegas Senior Community Manager

For me, it was the year of the banchan — the savory and spicy side dishes that are the chips and salsa of Korean cuisine. I obsessed over finding the best of these bottomless treats, dreaming of a bar where I could straddle a stool, order a tall, gingery cocktail and get a multi-colored lineup. My refuge became Mr. Tofu (3889 Spring Mountain Road, 388-7733). I feel guilty for not knowing their names: crisp radish kimchi, slightly sweet peppers, soy sauce-simmered cucumbers, lightly wilted spinach with peanuts. People say they’re better in L.A., but when they hit the table at Mr. Tofu, my heart beats a little faster. It’s like an ever-changing candy buffet.

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Julie HessionJulie Hession,
owner of Julie Anne’s All Natural Granola

The smoky-sweet grilled shishito peppers with ponzu sauce appetizer at Simon Restaurant & Lounge (inside Palms Place, 944-3292) is the kind of dish that I start to think about in the middle of the day — and it stays on my mind until there is no question as to where I’ll be having dinner that night. I can easily eat an entire serving (probably two) on my own, but I’ll begrudgingly share a few bites with my husband, secretly hoping that he grabs one of the rare spicy peppers and leaves the rest for me.


John WitteChef John Witte,
The Range Steakhouse at Harrah’s Las Vegas

Some of best food I’ve had is at Thai BBQ (4180 S. Jones Blvd., 222-0375). The restaurant is small, dimly lit and not remarkable by any standards. They do, however, make the best beef satays in all of Vegas. The correct proportion of traditional ingredients makes the perfect marinade, in conjunction with the char of an open flame grill — and even the pre-soaking of the bamboo skewers in water lend to the incredible flavors of this dish.


DC Bonus: More chefs and foodies pick their favorite meals of 2011     Bonus

Tom Kaplan,
Senior Managing Partner of Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group

My wife Liz and I were celebrating our first wedding anniversary. We wanted to stay in Las Vegas, so we chose the Mandarin. We had intended to go to Twist; however, it was closed. We wanted to stay on property, so we — somewhat reluctantly — chose the hotel's three-meal restaurant, Mo Zen Bistro. Much to our surprise and happiness, we were thrilled with the cuisine, service and quality of the room. This is not your typical hotel three-meal restaurant. We sat at a table along the window, overlooking Aria, Crystals and Veer Towers and got lost in the architecture. It didn't feel like you were in Vegas. We had extraordinary fresh yellowtail and toro, as well as fabulous Indian cuisine. This was an outstanding non-Vegas-but-Vegas experience.


Chef Kerry Simon,
KGB: Kerry’s Gourmet Burgers at Harrah’s Las Vegas

This summer, I had the chance to introduce a good friend, John Dolmayan, to Sen of Japan (8480 W Desert Inn Rd #F1, 871-7781). We walked in and Chef Nakano made us feel right at home. He began creating unique dishes from the sushi bar that were incomparable to most. It’s a relaxed, chill place to dine with good friends.


Chef Sam “Sammy D” DeMarco,
First Food & Bar at the Palazzo

Due Forni’s artufo pizza (3555 S. Town Center Drive #105, 586-6500) is the best thing I have eaten recently — but I also love the mozzarella bar. Owner Alex Taylor and Chef Carlos Buscaglia pay attention to details, ingredients, techniques, methods and ovens — a true recipe for success.


Chef Michael Wolf,
Serendipity 3 at Caesars Palace

When a friend of mine invited to me to try Japanese ramen, my skepticism was aroused. But Monta (5030 Spring Mountain Road #6, 367-4600) proved me wrong. Rich broth. Fresh noodles. Succulent roast pork. It's incredible — the best ramen I have ever had.


Ray Nisi,
Owner of Double Helix in the Palazzo

I was invited to a typical dinner with our vendors; however, this time I was able to pick the restaurant. Never being at Sage (inside Aria at CityCenter), I suggested we go there. I was happily surprised to see a friend as the new manager, who suggested that the chef would just bring out some items for us — my favorite way to dine. Without question, the highlight was the second course, a crème brûlée with foie gras. I haven't had a dish so decadent since my days in New York City. My only fear was that my cardiologist wasn't present.

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