Friday, November 26, 2010

The Strip Is LIVE on Sat at 1 p.m. PT

We're not doing The Petcast this week, but Miles and I sure are live for The Strip at 1 p.m. PT on Saturday with guest Andy Williams, who is bringing his holiday show back to Vegas next month and who is stunningly open about his LSD and drug use, eating dog food and the brutality he witnessed in Frank Sinatra. Also, yes, he still holds some controversial views on President Obama.

I'm still debating how much I want to get into the Eating Las Vegas drama. Odds are, it will be discussed. But since we talked about our overall views on the book and the book launch party, we may give it a rest. Or maybe I can get co-author Al Mancini on the horn today and tape a quick interview. Could go either way. Ya just never know.

As always, you can listen live at via LVRocks.Com and join the chat with fellow listeners. Or wait and grab the podcast version via iTunes or Zune or listen via that nifty "Listen Now" player on TheStripPodcast.Com or ThePetcast.Com. Your call.

The Show is (has been) UP: Louie Anderson & Peter Sagal

In all the hullabaloo surrounding my Eating Las Vegas column and then preparing for the big Thanksgiving feast I just blanked on posting the show to TheStripPodcast.Com. It was in the feed for iTunes or Zune subscribers as early as Tuesday. That's free, y'know, as is the iTunes software. But today I caught up, so here we go. You can click on the date below to get it to play or right-click on it to download it to listen at your leisure.

Nov. 22: Wait Wait, Don't Tell Louie

Louie Anderson may spend a lot of time joking about his weight, but he’s also getting serious about doing something about it. The legendary stand-up comedian, whose act is suddenly fresher and funnier now that he’s left the Excalibur for a eponymous showroom at the Palace Station, is focusing on new material, new endeavors and a new emphasis on living healthier. He explains to Steve this hour what incidents and family tragedies have prompted this as well as why he plans to chronicle his battle of the bulge in daily video blogs. Plus, which line of Steve’s questioning really annoyed him and why are the Louie-hosted years of the Family Feud not available for reruns? That’s coming up. Also, the NPR show “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” came to the Paris Las Vegas this week and Steve, fan boy that he is, sat down with host Peter Sagal in, of all places, Barry Manilow’s dressing room to find out what questions he decided NOT to ask Wayne Newton.

In Banter: Wait Wait in Vegas, a new dining "guide," the slot business ponders you, Cosmo images leaking, Harrah's cancels its IPO and the Wayner gets approved for his museum and tour plans.

Links to stuff discussed

Get tickets to Louie Anderson’s show at Palace Station

Louie’s site, Twitter and the correct Facebook page
Hear the Vegas edition of Wait Wait
Faith Salie’s site
VegasHappensHere.Com sneak-peak pictures of Cosmopolitan
Wayne Newton wins approval for his planned tours and museum
The Strip episode of audio of Steve’s G2E panel from 2009 on Encore design
Our 2006 interview with Louie Anderson
The Amazon.Com listing for the book “Eating Las Vegas”
Harrah’s is delaying its big plans and canceling its IPO
Yelp! On Hash House A Go Go, Rosemary's, Bouchon and China MaMa

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Food Journalism and Criticism Under The Microscope

I knew some folks wouldn't like what I had to say about "Eating Las Vegas," the new book by three leading Vegas food critics. But still, wow.

In this week's Las Vegas Weekly column, I took aim at the strange spectacle that John Curtas, Max Jacobson and Al Mancini made of themselves unveiling their book naming the city's 50 most "essential" restaurants. The reason I did so was because it was an only-in-Vegas event; it is very abnormal for serious food critics to be personally handing out awards to restaurants or posing for photos with chefs.

Food critics typically try NOT to draw attention to themselves, hoping to approximate the experience that real diners would have. It's a simple concept. It's also one of the guiding principles of the Association of Food Journalists.

Well, holy hell. The blowback has been fascinating. I ended up in a Twitter feud with a fellow whose work I had really enjoyed, admired and promoted until he came at me on Facebook not with a measured, mature response but with the ridicule and haughtiness that are his standard.

It went downhill from there until these moments of professionalism:

What brought all that on? Well, this blogger/Tweeter believes that food critics will be recognized anyway so they ought to soak up the sun. That critics all over the country do what they can to guard their identities so that they can be a proxy for the public is a "ruse" to him. (Aside: These are the extent to which food critics work to protect their identity in other places.) The entire rest of the food criticism world are populated by "idiots" and how clubby, provincial Vegas does it is the only sane method.

Beyond this classless fellow's inability to disagree respectfully -- he asked someone who wanted us to stop arguing why she had to "step on [his] balls" -- he also claimed he was recognized in Vegas restaurants after just two months of doing his blog. That's simply too ridiculous to take seriously; restaurants on the Strip are actually some of the easiest to slip in and out of without being noticed as a reviewer because they're huge, the staff changes so frequently and they see thousands upon thousands of different faces every month.

Only a select few critics warrant the sort of effort that would go into figuring out who they are and tripping alarms when they're around, and this vainglorious blogger is absolutely, positively not at that level. As I've said, I admire(d) his work and believe(d) he could get there some day. But not now. Neither, incidentally, am I. I have absolutely no problem going to restaurants without anyone knowing who I am, and I've been responsible in past years for selecting eateries for the Conde Nast Traveler Hot List.

So this rang false to me, and I called it. Either it's untrue or this fellow's doing something to draw attention to himself. Those are the only choices that make any logical sense. Either way, his completely deranged response showed a person who has little self-control. I'd hate to be his waiter.

Meanwhile, fellow Las Vegas Weekly scribe John Curtas, the city's eminent foodie, responded with a more mature version of that guy's commentary. And here is what he said:

I haven't been anonymous in Las Vegas restaurants for almost ten years (except in Chinatown, where I could be on the cover of Time magazine and no one would care), and neither was Frank Bruni (or Sam Sifton - his successor at the NYTimes). That anonymity myth was exploded years ago in the Big Apple and something journalist Freiss should know.

For better or worse, the days of the stealthy, journalist/critic are gone. The best I can do is tell my readers when I pay for a meal and when I don't...and then call 'em as I see 'em after that.

Steve makes a good point about sucking up to publicists -- something I refuse to do...much to the dismay of many a flack in many a Strip hotel. If I suck up to anyone, it's to the hard working chefs who put out the world class food that has made Vegas famous in the culinary world.

Fine. That's the other point of view, that celebrity is unavoidable and does not taint the experience.

We all know that the second part's not true, though. We need look no further than a passage in "Eating Las Vegas" in which Al Mancini talks about giving Nove at the Palms a very bad review and then being spotted there and allowing the chef to fawn all over him until he changed his view. Just because the chef takes extra care for him and, perhaps, tailors things to Mancini's particular palate, doesn't mean that he'll do the same for you. In fact, he won't.

It's a conundrum, no doubt about it. But there are two legitimate points of view. My side is that food critics ought to err on the side of trying not to make spectacles of themselves. The effort to conceal identity is honorable and, if it even works half the time, it's worthwhile.

Meanwhile, oddly, there was this sighting of me, courtesy of Mr. Curtas' Facebook:

Sorry, pal. I was right here at home last night, after doing the first wave of Thanksgiving Day shopping. I've still yet to go to Lakeside Grill. Perhaps we can go together and carry on this argument there. I bet we get awesome service.

P.S. Big kudos must be offered to the Weekly for even printing my piece given that Curtas is the resident food critic. I bet you all a dollar that neither Mancini's Las Vegas CityLife nor Jacobson's Vegas Seven will print anything seriously critical of the book.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Reality TV Makes Another Vegas Career

It turns out, you don't have to do well on reality TV. You just have to be interesting.

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas' STK restaurant just announced it had tapped for its executive chef one Stephen Hopcraft, formerly the executive chef of Seablue at MGM Grand and "Top Chef" also-ran. Prior to appearing on the DC season of the show, Hopcraft toiled for many years for Michael Mina's empire in various capacities.

Now he's moving on, just a few months after he had a rather embarrassing stint on the Bravo show during which he was lambasted repeatedly by judges including Seablue neighbor Tom Colicchio of Craftsteak. It's hard to imagine Hopcraft would have surfaced as a prospect for this gig -- he's been running a seafood restaurant for years, remember, and STK is, uh, steak -- without his "Top Chef" exposure.

In my Las Vegas Weekly column earlier this autumn, I wrote:

Hopcraft’s situation fascinated me because I’ve written quite a lot in recent years about the Bravo show’s benefit to Vegas and its restaurants, particularly when the show filmed a season here.

Yet watching Hopcraft under repeated attack by the judges, I wondered: Is all publicity really good? Would Vegas diners at MGM Grand, flanked by eateries from Joël Robuchon, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and Tom Colicchio (Top Chef’s top judge himself), spend $40 an entrée at the place with that guy who was badmouthed week after week on TV?

Don’t think such thoughts eluded Hopcraft as he endured his public lickings. “I felt like I carried the reputation of not only this restaurant but of the Mina Group and the hotel,” he said, referencing Seablue owner Michael Mina. “That was the part that was really crushing.”

Looks like it was worth it after all. SeaBlue has consistently been popular and well-regarded by critics and diners, and Hopcraft does have a history in steakhouses, as he discussed in my interview in September. So it's probably a good fit. We shall see!