Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Las Vegas

'Eating Las Vegas,' again

IMGThe boys are back at it again. "Eating Las Vegas 2012" flings three critics — Max Jacobson, John Curtas and Al Mancini — at what they’ve agreed are the 50 essential restaurants there. Much of the time the critics wildly disagree on the merits of any particular restaurant, which makes for interesting reading. Like the first edition, this second iteration of "Eating Las Vegas" begins with the top 10 and moves on to “the Rest of the Best.”

But the authors also list the best beer and cocktail programs, cheap eats, Chinatown restaurants, desserts, food trucks and late-night eating and more. If you’ve ever wondered what’s out there beyond the Strip, this guide ferrets out the essential restaurants and dives to visit. If you spend much time in Las Vegas, you need this book. 

The foreword is by "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous' " Robin Leach, who is something of a fixture in Vegas. He writes, “to be in a room with John Curtas, Max Jacobson and Al Mancini is to experience the tumultuous discourse of the most combative critics in the food world.” You’ll certainly get a dose of feisty comment in this book. 


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-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo: Eating Las Vegas cover. Credit: Huntington Press

Where to find snail roe (and just about everything else) in Las Vegas

Brett1 (1 of 1) When I was in Las Vegas recently, a friend emailed me from London asking what I did during the day there. I spent some time hiking in Red Rock Canyon, hunkering down in my room to work and checking out what’s new at Unica Home’s showroom.  

I also visited Artisanal Foods, about three miles off the strip. Since I was last in Vegas, Brett Ottolenghi had opened a retail shop. Since 1998, he’s been providing area chefs with truffles, special oils and vinegars, Iberico ham and more. He started his wholesale business as a teenager and was the subject of a New Yorker profile in 2010.  

Nothing fancy to look at: just shelves and some refrigerators stocked with top-quality, hard-to-find ingredients. I could have spent a lot of money here -- in fact, I did spend quite a bit, but could have spent more, much more.

How about that entire 19-pound jamon Iberico de bellota for about $900? (He even Wasabi1 (1 of 1) sells the ham holder as well.) Or a whole summer's worth of chorizo for paellas and bean soups? I would have bought some of the giant prawns caught 600 feet down near the Great Barrier Reef if I could figure out how to get them home in the car safely.

Ottolenghi is a charmer, as much a geek about quality ingredients as Steve Wozniak is about computers. He knows a lot. That’s why the chefs come to him if they have trouble finding something. “If they need asparagus or cucumber vinegar,” he says, “they come to us. So we end up with a lot of vinegars.” Some of his favorites are those from Albert Katz in Napa Valley, who grows his own grapes and his own apples and makes vinegar in a 19th century barn. “He sells out every year, but refuses to raise his prices or make more.”

I bought a 5-liter can of estate-bottled Arbequina olive oil called Merula and some gorgeous freeze-dried saffron from Spain, plus incredibly fresh and moist vanilla beans from Madagascar and Tahiti and some Q brand tonic water (a fave for gin and tonics). And if I hadn’t already been stocked up with espelette pepper and fennel pollen, I would have bought some of that too.

Saffron1 (1 of 1) He has salt cakes the size of dinner plates from the Himalayas and a slew of other salts, great anchovies from Cantabria too. He breaks out a giant tin of the saffron, each pistil pristine and intact, the fragrance overwhelming. Next, he pulls out a container of fresh wasabi from Oregon. I could have spent hours there checking out everything the store offers.

What’s next? He’s excited about finding a source for ... snail roe.

OK, next time I see a recipe that calls for snail caviar, I know where to go. Meanwhile, I’m going to be enjoying my vinegars and olive oil and most of all, that saffron.

Check out the store's website where you can order a number of items by mail. In the works: an Artisanal Foods app.

Artisanal Foods Inc., 2275 East Sunset Road., Las Vegas, Nev. 89119; (702) 436-4252; www.artisanalfoods.com


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 -- S. Irene Virbila

 Photo: Brett Ottolenghi. Credit: S. Irene Virbila / Los Angeles Times


Restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila discovers cookware bargains on the way to Las Vegas

Stove 2 (1 of 1) We’d been driving for five hours, stuck for almost an hour behind an accident on the 15 Freeway going north to Las Vegas, when Primm and the Fashion Outlets of Vegas loomed in the distance. Should I remind my husband that the Williams-Sonoma outlet is there? I wavered, but in the end decided to do the right thing and told him.

Of course he wanted to stop. The discounts that day were deep -- 40% to 60% off the outlet prices in some categories. (They usually run for a week, Monday to Sunday.) The husband added to our collection of crystal glassware by Schott Zweisel with more hi-ball and gin-and-tonic glasses for $3.99 (normally several times that). He also picked up a nonstick silicon oven liner.

Continue reading »

Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila on croquetas served up in ... what?

IMG_2476 OK, so now we know José Andres has a sense of humor. Not that I doubted it. No fussy presentations for the Spanish chef at Jaleo, his tapas and paella restaurant in the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

How’s this for quirky? He serves croquetas (fried ham or chicken balls) in a shoe. But not just any shoe, a suede ankle boot from Camper based in Majorca, the Spanish island.



Goodbye to Dinner House M

Farid Zadi's new line of tagines

The Times' Battle of the Burgers is on

— S. Irene Virbila


Photo credit: S. Irene Virbila / Los Angeles Times

Nikki Beach club pops up in L.A. before opening at the Tropicana in Las Vegas

Nikki-Beach-Champagne Summer will soon arrive on the scene in its string bikini and with it comes that heat-fuelled rite of passage--the pool party. There will be plenty of drenched revelry in L.A. over the coming months, but most of the really hedonistic parties will take place in Sin City.

Enter Nikki Beach. The glitzy, beach-themed bar and club with eight locations around the world including Marbella, Spain; St. Tropez and Miami Beach will open a new location at the remodeled Tropicana hotel resort and casino in Las Vegas over Memorial Day weekend.

And to introduce Angelenos to the concept, Nikki Beach will stage two pop-up parties here. The first will be on April 21 at Rolling Stone Restaurant & Lounge, the second on April 22 at Voyeur in Hollywood. Other stops are scheduled for Arizona, Texas, Cabo San Lucas and the Cannes Film Festival in France.

The steamy Nikki Beach parties will feature lots of dancing and bronzed bodies, as well as plenty of Champagne and mojitos. Food will be absent, but when the club opens at the Tropicana there will be a full menu through Cafe Nikki featuring breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and late-night bites.

Offerings are very, well, beachy, with items like island-style fish chowder, mahi mahi club sandwiches and Baja fish tacos rounding out a menu that includes organic granola and lots of salads and sushi.

The Tropicana's makeover (which is nearing completion) includes a South Beach-inspired redesign of the hotel rooms and suites, as well as of the casino. The four-acre pool area is also receiving a marked upgrade. Several new restaurants and bars will also be added.


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PETA shows a sense of humor. We think.

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--Jessica Gelt 

Photo: Champagne fun at Nikki Beach. Credit: Nikki Beach

Robuchon, Ducasse, Gagnaire, Keller, Savoy, Serrano team up for Bocuse

OK, there are food festivals out the wazoo these days, and at every one of them there’s at least one big blow-out dinner. But the main event at this year’s Bon Appetit Vegas Uncork'd event surely takes the cake. At a celebration of the career of legendary French master Paul Bocuse, the meal will be prepared by a cast that includes Joël Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire, Hubert Keller, Guy Savoy and Julian Serrano. Those are just the ones who have signed up so far. It just would have been nice if they could have come up with a title better than “Toques Off to Paul Bocuse.”

The dinner is May 7 at the MGM Grand, and tickets are $395 per person, including food, wine, tax and tip.

-- Russ Parsons

(Photo by Robert Pratta/Reuters)

Eating Las Vegas

9781935396390 Frequent visitors to Vegas (and you know who you are) should check out a new book called "Eating Las Vegas," the result of a collaboration among three of the city's food writers. That would be the dueling critics from KNPR's biweekly radio show "State of Nevada: Food Talk With Max Jacobson and John Curtas," plus Al Mancini of the alternative weekly CityLife. Before moving to Vegas almost a dozen years ago, Jacobson was the Los Angeles Times' indefatigable restaurant critic on the Orange County and San Fernando Valley beats.

" 'Eating Las Vegas' is the result of three massive egos compromising on their 50 essential restaurants for the city of Las Vegas, not necessarily the 50 best, but the 50 that define Vegas the best," says Jacobson. Choosing the final 50 involved such tense meetings, "we added a veto section in the book so that we could each have the option to veto a restaurant if we didn’t want it to be in the book."

The idea is genius: all three of these very different critics' opinions in one place. Which restaurant are in the top 10? You'll have to buy the book to find out.

Which restaurants got a veto? I can tell you that Origin India, Mix and Cafe Martorano got the boot from one or another of the critics. 

Is there a TV show in the works on the lines of "Eberts Presents at the Movies"? So far, no. But do catch "Food Talk" if you can. (Check the schedule of KNPR online.)

The trio's take on the new restaurants in the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas casino, including those from José Andrés and David Myers,  will have to wait for the next edition. But it is coming.

The book is available online at Amazon and in various Vegas casinos and airports around the country for $12.95.

[Updated: An earlier version of this post mistakenly said the new restaurants were in the Continental casino. The new restaurants are located in the Cosmopolitan casino.]

-- S. Irene Virbila

Cover scan of "Eating Las Vegas" via the publisher

BlogHer co-founder forecasts the future


The next two weekends are going to be a blizzard of hashtags.

This coming weekend, there's BlogHer Food. Held over two days in San Francisco, the sold-out conference features some of the most influential names in the food world, including Dorie Greenspan and Michael Ruhlman. A week later, the food focus widens and swings to Las Vegas, for BlogWorld. (I'll be at both events, and I'll be a panelist at BlogWorld, so please stop and say hi!)

The two food-focused events come at a provocative time: Blogging now shares the stage with micro-blogging, old media's aggressive gambit to make up for lost time, and the Rise of Aggregation a la Eatocracy and HuffPost Food. More important, what does this all mean for food blogging (because, let's face it, all we really care about is food blogging)?

We asked BlogHer co-founder Elisa Camahort Page to tell us what the landscape looks like from her vantage point. She forecast these six trends, and what follows are the highlights of our conversation. Long story short: Far from being "over," blogging is just getting started, she said, adding that food bloggers have more opportunities than every before to find a way to turn clicks into bucks.

Continue reading »

All aboard for Vegas buffets


We know this deal won't interest our restaurant critic, S. Irene Virbila, sworn enemy of breakfast buffets.

But for the rest of you buffet buffs, your ship has come in. Spend a day eating in Rio, Paris, Rome and Hollywood -- so to speak -- using a $45.99 all-day pass good for buffets at Harrah’s resorts and casinos in Las Vegas.

Photo: You can eat at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino with the “Buffet of Buffets” pass. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

Details on Jose Andres' new Chinese-Mexican restaurant in Las Vegas

JosepancolorAs reported earlier, Jose Andres will be opening two new restaurants at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. The first will be a Sin City outpost of Jaleo (Andres' Spanish tapas restaurant in Washington) and the second a Chinese-Mexican concept.

Until now, Andres' Chexican restaurant remained unnamed, but the new addition to his Think Food Group family will be called China Poblano. The space will be designed by SEED, which also has designed restaurants for the likes of Emeril Lagasse and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Asian-meets-Latin-American fusion has taken the mobile food world by storm, and it'll be interesting to see Andres' updated take on the trend when the restaurant -- and the Cosmopolitan -- open on Dec. 15.

-- Krista Simmons

Photo: Jose Andres. Credit: Pablo de Loy


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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.