Tuesday, January 26, 2010

NY Post: What NOT Eat in #Vegas

[UPDATE: NYP editor David Landsel responded via Twitter: "Yes, been to ALL the Las Vegas restaurants we recommended this week; took a couple of years!" OK, then.]

The New York Post today chimes in with a brutal travel piece instructing readers where NOT to eat when in Las Vegas. It is interesting for two reasons, (a) for their selections and (b) because very little travel journalism is ever devoted to what to avoid.

I'm a huge fan of travel journalism devoted to what to avoid, especially when it comes to Las Vegas. In fact, I've penned variations of my Vegas' Seven Deadliest Sins piece instructing readers what not to do for the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune more than once, although it's been a while and may be worth revisiting since not seeing Celine Dion is kind of worthless advice these days. But the point is, knowing what to avoid is at least as valuable in Vegas as knowing what to do. Time and money are precious.

This piece accompanies two others also by Post Travel Editor David Landsel and writer Andy Wang, one listing the 10 best Strip restaurants and 21 off-Strip essential bars and restaurants.

Taken together, the three articles represent perhaps the most exhaustive assessment of the Vegas food scene done by outsiders for something other than a guidebook. In fact, I can't quite imagine how they did it, two guys trying out some 41+ places on the sort of expense accounts money-bleeding newspapers have these days. If they actually ate at all of these places, we're talking an assignment that would have run Rupert Murdoch into the tens of thousands of dollars and taken weeks.

That said, the lists at turns are smart and simplistic, spot-on and unfair, pleasing and maddening. Which is how such lists always are and must be. In some spots, I was incredibly gratified to have my own long-held views affirmed, which may explain my respect.

For instance, I cannot bear all the raves that Thomas Keller's Bouchon at Venetian receives. The Review-Journal's Heidi Knapp Rinella, for instance, put it No. 7 on her best-of list for 2009, which makes me wonder if maybe she's not putting the food in the correct orifice. I have repeatedly said the Bouchon experience is ruined by a totally obnoxious and incompetent waitstaff -- and I've tried more than once to give them the benefit of the doubt that I had been there on an off day or two -- so imagine how delighted I was to see that borne out by the Posters: "What they forgot: A staff that doesn’t drop the ball all the time. Talk about wasted opportunities."

Bouchon was No. 3 on the DON'T-EAT list, which was topped by Guy Savoy, which I haven't visited in years and, thus, have no opinion other than that such travel pieces are worthless if they don't show the courage of going after big names. In this case, they've dressed down a Michelin-rated place perhaps because of its honors and the huge pricetag. No. 2 was Rao's for the same reason that got me in so much trouble with the Caesars Palace flak many moons ago, a complaint that the ambiance is completely uninteresting and the food is very good but not as good as the New York original and also kinda pricey.

I have issues with the rest of the DON'T-EAT list, though. The spanking for tourist-trappy No. 7 Tao is well-deserved, but I've enjoyed terrific meals at Wazuzu at Encore (No. 6) and a dismissal of "anything by Wolfgang Puck" (No. 9) is just a cheap shot. Cut, for instance, is an outstanding steakhouse and I've eaten better food for less money at Spago at Caesars Palace than at the original in L.A. Also, dismissing "anything at Mandalay Bay" (No. 8) shows an ignorance of Rick Moonen's mastery at RM. They didn't mean it anyway, seeing how the write-up actually sort of recommended two places there -- Fleur de Lys and Aureole.

Their BEST-OF list is topped by Bartolotta at Wynn, a home run of a choice. In fact, their lovefest for all things Wynn is spot-on: Wing Lei is No. 6, Alex is No. 7 and SW Steakhouse is No. 10. I'm a little surprised that Botero didn't rate and I'm sure Heidi Knapp Rinella will be shocked that the Posters weren't taken in at Switch (her No. 1 for 2009!?!) by all the diners who cheer as if to say, as Miles loves to mock, "Holy shit! Did you see what just happened to the fucking curtains?"

A big surprise of their BEST-OF is the presence of three CityCenter options, Sage at Aria (No. 2), Bar Masa/Shaboo at Aria (No. 4) and Twist at Mandarin Oriental (No. 8). Having not yet had the chance to eat-around at CityCenter, I'm now more excited than I initially was when I saw so few new-to-Vegas names list of chefs there. It seemed CityCenter was happy allowing Bellagio chefs to franchise. Yet what ones MGM Mirage did recruit - save for whoever's in the kitchen at Beso (No. 10 on the Posters' DON'T-EAT list) -- are doing good work.

Landsel and Wang's Off-Strip Essentials were fun, although several were groaningly predictable -- Lindo Michoacan, Raku, Lotus of Siam, Rosemary's and Luv-It Frozen Custard among them -- and the Peppermill is both predictable and ON the Strip. How odd, too, to recommend the Mount Charleston Lodge, which has perennially had dreadful food. The Posters seem to agree: "The food is a pedestrian disappointment; good thing there’s nothing ordinary about the setting of this hotel restaurant, high above the desert floor on the slopes of Mount Charleston." They're not recommending the restaurant, they're recommending the mountain. So why is this taking up valuable real estate on a best-of food list?

That said, the list did acknowledge the growing supremacy of Vegas as a place to eat really wonderful, varied and authentic Asian cuisine. I'm sure many of their Chinatown choices were solid -- KJ Kitchen, Tofu Hut, Raku, Archi's Thai Kitchen -- and what's telling is that I could take them to four equally amazing holes-in-the-wall over there.

All in all, though, a very respectful and broad assessment of the Vegas food scene. I could quibble all day long -- there's not a single recommendation for Caesars Palace or any Harrah's restaurant and the BEST-OF list fails to unearth any uncelebrated gems like Woo or Koi while veering towards the ultra-expensive -- but these are Landsel and Wang's opinions and by and large they back them up well.

Nicely done.


John said...

Can't believe you're not a fan of Bouchon, Steve. It's my favorite place to eat in Vegas. I have never had a bad experience there.

Food is always top-notch, the service has always been pretty-close-to perfectly timed, and the laid back ambiance is very soothing for the somewhat intimidated Vegas traveler.

The New York Times is a little bitchy. Guy Savoy is a bad restaurant? The fuck?


John - if you endured the service i've endured there repeatedly -- and that so many others have reported to me -- you wouldn't be such a fan. I'm glad you've had a good time, but you're the first to tell me so.

And the NY POST is always bitchy. That's its raison d'etre. But I still thought these lists were worth noting.

H.K.P. said...

Was at Bouchon last week and they're right, the place sucks. The food is fine but the service is just terrible. TERRIBLE. Stay away. Plenty better places to go.

Eli said...

I have eaten at Bouchon at least a half dozen times and the service has never been anything less than top-notch, and the food is among the best in town. The comments you have (and the Post) about Bouchon seem like they're coming from bizarro world to me.

And Picasso at #2 on the Not list? Totally unwarranted.

Sage, on the other hand, was an absolutely incredible meal, it deserves it's slot.

atdnext said...

IMHO The NY Post writers were acting like major @ssholes when writing this. The cheaps shot at all the Mandalay Bay restaurants alone turned me off. It was also extremely obvious that they included Guy Savoy and Charlie Trotter on the list simply because they're jealous that these chefs chose to open in Vegas instead of New York.

And btw, it's not really fair to keep slamming Switch at Encore when Chef Rene Lenger just took over. (He came in October after Marc Poidevin left.) When I sampled his food at the Whole Foods Henderson "Top Chef Cook-off" in November, I was pretty impressed. I'm looking forward to "retrying" the restaurant soon just to give Lenger a fair chance.

atdnext said...

And btw, since we're talking about food, I'm glad to see John Curtas will be joining The Weekly. I just can't contain my glee, I'll be able to read you AND Mr. ELV in the same magazine! :-D