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Las Vegas Food Critics Declare Revolution In Restaurant Scene

libertine_170_final.jpg

Photography by Sabin Orr

Sausage board with merguez hot link, bratwurst, and sauerkraut and peppers at Libertine Social. 

It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

While not a par with UFC gladiator or construction worker, being a food critic can be demanding. That’s particularly true in Las Vegas, where there are restaurants of all specialties and price points, from glittering palaces on the Strip to easy to miss neighborhood haunts.

Those challenges did not deter an intrepid band of the city’s best restaurant reviewers, who produced Desert Companion magazine’s annual Restaurant Awards. They were announced this week, with the judges declaring a dining revolution was unleashed this year in Las Vegas.

“From hidden corners of Chinatown to suburban strip malls to the fine dining citadels of The Strip, 2016 was, well, a year of culinary revolutions,” the judges write. “Some restaurants pursued uncompromising purity and simplicity; others poured their energy into whimsical, rarefied invention; still others practiced a principled devotion to great food that appeals to real people.”

The magazine, published by Nevada Public Radio, devotes 15 pages to the best of the Southern Nevada dining scene. It’s available at Jamba Juice, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and libraries, as well as online.

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DISCUSSION HIGHLIGHTS:

On the Las Vegas restaurant revolution: 

Food critic John Curtas: 

“We’re slowly seeing the strangle hold of the Strip get relaxed.”

“Finally, these young chefs and some of them we mentioned in Desert Companion, are coming into their own.” 

On being a good restaurant critic:

Curtas: 

“You have to know why something good or bad, not just whether it is good or bad” “You have to have enough in your mental and taste palate rolodex to able to go through it and go, ‘I know why this doesn’t taste good.’”

Food writer Jim Begley:  

“You gotta love food. You gotta love restaurants. You gotta be willing to go ahead and track down these places that aren’t necessarily in the public eye”

On knowing a good restaurant:

Curtas:

“You’re looking for early indications that somebody really cares what they’re doing,” 

“Watch what they do with a simple roast chicken or a simple chicken dish. The way it is presented is it crackly on the outside is it moist on the inside. Do they dress the plate and compose the plate. Even a simple restaurant can make a chicken breast really good, if they take that extra minute or two to make it right.” 

Begley: 

“Almost the first indication of whether or not I’m in a good restaurant if I’m walking into a place completely blind: housemade salad dressing… if a place is making their salad dressings in house 9 times out of 10, I can guarantee you it’s going to be a decent meal.” 

On suggestions for replacements for El Sombrero:

“If you’re looking for truly authentic Mexican food in town take a drive down East Lake Mead Blvd. On a Saturday afternoon, hit these little taquerias. Los Mocajetes is right off of East Lake Mead. My favorite place from last year: El Menudazo

On what makes a good steakhouse:

Curtas:

“Steak begins with the steak itself. It’s the meat itself…  New York and Las Vegas have the best steakhouses in the country and they get the best meat. They get this prime meat. Then they age it. It’s not just about throwing a steak on the grill. It is about how you season it. How you get the right crust. How you trim. There is a lot that goes into a great steak.”  

On why Green Valley/Henderson doesn't have the selection of local restaurants like Summerlin:

Curtas: 

“It has to do with real estate values and what the county commission did. When they put that Eastern Ave. Corridor spine, they virtually insured the way they divided those lots that all those lots were going to be big subdivisions that cater to big ticket franchise stores and that’s exactly who moved in that’s who kills the kind organic personal restaurants that you’re talking about” 

Begley:

“I highly suggest hit Standard and Pour. Standard and Pour is a great locally owned venue and they’re doing so pretty creative stuff up there”

“And Bratalian and Kitchen Table. There are a few, but they’re swimming against the tide”

From Desert Companion: Dining Guide

 

Guests

John Curtas and Jim Begley, food critics