If there was ever a person who you could say has eaten Las Vegas, it’s John Curtas. The food critic has been a fixture in the local dining scene for decades.
Alexandria Dazlich directs government affairs for the Nevada Restaurant Association — but she’s also a diehard foodie who enjoys an upscale meal as much as a good pizza.
For the next issue of Nevada Public Radio's magazine, "Desert Companion," Curtas and Dazlich sat down for a conversation about why they enjoy eating out in Las Vegas so much. It's part of a New Year feature on things to love about the city now.
In excerpts from that conversation for State of Nevada, Curtas and Dazlich swap reviews on the latest restaurants to open downtown, Curtas mourns the loss of the Strip’s French chefs, and he confesses a secret weakness … for fast food! In addition, they each share their most memorable meals, with Curtas comparing his to the experience of walking on the moon.
Curtas: Where have you been going lately?
Dazlich: This week I checked out Main Street Provisions, which just opened up. Kim Owens is the owner. It was pretty spectacular. I was blown away. The chef Justin Kingsley-Hall did a great job. His whole philosophy, ‘comfort food for the modern soul,’ that’s what he told me. The menu was elevated Southern staples with a twist on it.
Next door to them, they had Good Pie that just opened up in December and that was great too. It is more artisan pizza.
Curtas: Another one within a stone’s throw, Yu-or-Mi Sushi and Sake bar. I call it a little bento jewel box. I didn’t expect to like it. I thought it was going to be what I call ‘neighborhood sushi,’ strip mall sushi with the same old thing. It actually knocked my socks off.
On what is missing in the dining scene:
Curtas: I love the French guys, which I fear we have lost. Robuchon, I don’t think is coming back. He really put Las Vegas on the world’s gastronomic map in 2005 when he got here. He died two years ago but his restaurant group is shutdown at the MGM. I don’t think they’re going to be back.
When I send my little texts and emails to people, I’m getting from public relations people and owners question marks back.
Curtas: What have you missed the most during the pandemic?
Dazlich: I’m so sensitive to stuff like that and it doesn’t need to be manicured lawns and perfectly cut hedges. It needs to be indicative of the area and that’s what makes it almost like a treasure. Sometimes you find it in the most unlikely places.
Curtas: I call it the cacophony of conviviality. You need that.
On what stands out in Las Vegas dining:
Curtas: My wife and I talk about the thing we would miss the most if we left Las Vegas is the Asian food. The incredible variety of Asian food. That really only New York and Los Angeles can compete with. Maybe Chicago, Seattle, but we have it concentrated here. It really evolved in the last 20 years.
Dazlich: What is your most favorite dining memory?
Curtas: This was 2010 or 2011 when Las Vegas UnCorked was our food festival that was around for like 10 years and it was really great the first few years. All the French chefs came over from France. Everybody here. All the celebrity chefs. Everybody came to Vegas in that 2008, 2009, 2010 era.
I went with the editor of Bon Appetit magazine. We had a private table at Guy Savoy in Caesars Palace. Savoy was there. Having a Michelin 3-Star French chef come there and serve you a whole wild eight-pound roasted turbot – the size of the top of our desk – serving you course after course – with nationally known wine guys and let’s be honest kissing our asses from the time we walked in until we left and not having to pay for it. That’s about as memorable as it gets in the food world for me.
Curtas: What is your most memorable meal in Las Vegas?
Dazlich: When I first moved downtown, I just popped in Bajamar and that place blew me away.
The one downtown isn’t in the best area, but to be honest, I live a couple of minutes from there. So I figured I should probably try the places in my neighborhood. I walked in there and they treated us super well – warm, friendly.
We ordered the tacos and weren’t expecting too much. We ordered some octopus. We ordered some calamari, kinda of a whole slew of things. My husband grabbed the horchata. I thought, ‘I’m going to order that hibiscus lemonade.’
By the time we walked out the door, we wanted to turn right back around and order another round because it was so unbelievable.
On downtown dining:
Curtas: I find myself sort of swelling with pride and enthusiasm that we’re creating a microclimate of good food and drink in a small area, which has really never happened before in Las Vegas.
Dazlich: Definitely. I think before we were kind of missing that downtown. When people think downtown, they think of the Strip.
Where do locals go? Where do people go besides Fremont and the Strip? A lot of millennials like to hop from establishment to establishment. So you get to try a little bit here, try a little bit there. It is all part of the experience. It gives you a lot of hope.
You can read more of their conversation in the next issue of "Desert Companion."
John Curtas, food critic; Alexandria Dazlich, Director of Government Affairs, Nevada Restaurant Association
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