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They are the three food writers feared yet feted, respected but reviled, loved and loathed simultaneously. Tonight, John Curtas, Max Jacobson and Al Mancini are unveiling their second edition of “Eating Las Vegas: The 50 Essential Restaurants,” their ranking -- anticipated by some, dreaded by others -- of our Las Vegas eating establishments.
The trio’s ranking this year may unsettle chefs, restaurant owners and foodies on and off the Strip, with 15 neighborhood entries displacing some longtime Strip favorites.
Vegas DeLuxe has learned that the new Top 10 are (in alphabetical order) Bar Masa (Aria), Cut (Palazzo), Estiatorio Milos (Cosmopolitan), Joel Robuchon (MGM Grand), Guy Savoy (Caesars Palace), L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (MGM Grand), Le Cirque (Bellagio), Michael Mina (Bellagio), Picasso (Bellagio) and Twist (Mandarin Oriental).
The stunners here are that two Bellagio restaurants -- Michael Mina and Le Cirque with new Chef Gregory Pugin -- enter the Top 10 for the first time along with Estiatorio Milos. The surprises here are that Paul Bartolotta’s seafood palace Bartolotta at the Wynn and Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood Upstairs at Mandalay Bay have been reeled down to the remaining 40. And never mind the uber-expensive Alex that held court at the Wynn and was in the Top 10 last year. It has closed.
Al told me in advance of tonight’s unveiling party for winning chefs and restaurateurs at Guy Savoy in Caesars Palace: “This second year, it was easier because we had the basics from our first battleground, but the difficulty was a much harder time coming together accepting each other’s balances.
“This year we had more contenders, so, although we played nicer together, we really did put our feet down in the decision-making process. We know it will anger, but we simply had to boot some of the restaurants. We had to make room for 12 new entries, and some great new places have opened in the past 12 months. The big change is 15 out of the 50 are neighborhood and not on the Strip.
“Our fights were over who had to go to make way for the newcomers. You can really see that stubbornness in the expanded veto section. Boy did we argue and argue. I’ll be honest: I’m still frustrated with my co-authors over their prejudices and stubbornness. Yes, we still made each other crazy. Our idiosyncrasies drive each other nuts, and we bang our heads against each other and the wall so much, we reach the point of never wanting to do it again.
“But we’re very proud of the book now that it’s out. We’re happy the first edition was received so well and sold out. This time around, though, we’ve paid attention to our critics and have added individual recommendations, insiders tips, lots more color photos and even addressed beer and burger bars because they have become the rage -- it’s not solely high-priced, top-end eateries.”
Here are the other 40 selections, simply titled “The Rest of the Best,” (again in alphabetical order): American Fish (Aria), Aureole (Mandalay Bay), B&B Ristorante (Venetian), Bartolotta (Wynn), Bar + Bistro (Downtown Arts Factory), Beijing Noodle (Caesars Palace), Border Grill (Mandalay Bay), Bouchon (Venetian), Carnevino (Palazzo), China Mama (Spring Valley), China Poblano (Cosmopolitan), Circo (Bellagio), D.O.C.G Enoteca (Cosmopolitan), DW Bistro (Summerlin), Eiffel Tower (Paris), First Food & Bar (Palazzo), Forte Tapas (West Side), Jaleo (Cosmopolitan), Julian Serrano (Aria), Los Antojos (East Side), Lotus of Siam (East Side), M&M Soul Food (West Side), Marche Bacchus (Desert Shores), Monta (West Side), Nove Italiano (Palms), Payard Patisserie (Caesars Palace), Ping Pang Pong (Gold Coast), Raku (West Side), Rao’s (Caesars Palace), RM Seafood Upstairs (Mandalay Bay), Sage (Aria), Sen of Japan (West Side), Settebello (Green Valley), Simon (Palms Place), Soyo (West Side), Spago (Caesars Palace), Todd’s Unique Dining (Henderson), Top of the World (Stratosphere), Valentino (Venetian) and Vintner Grill (Summerlin).
Check out the expanded Vetoes section because that’s where you’ll find the fiery differences of opinions as to which restaurants the authors liked but were overruled by the other two. There are disagreements and discussion on some of my favorites: Cafe Martorano (Rio), Mesa Grill (Caesars Palace), N9NE (Palms), Little Buddha (Palms) and Society Cafe (Encore). They omitted any mention of my all-time favorite, Postrio at the Venetian! I do agree with their recommendations for Lavo (Palazzo), Tao (Venetian), Sugar Factory American Brasserie (Paris) and Sinatra (Encore).
There also are sections for downtown dining, desserts, cocktail and wine bar lounges, Old Vegas spots, new food trucks, steakhouses, Sunday brunches, pizza and late-night dining.
A year ago when I handed out the winner awards, the debut book was a 150-page directory, but this year the second edition is taller, with nearly 200 pages and is packed with glorious photos for every restaurant. I told the winners at Guy Savoy tonight: “Congratulations to all the winners. We are so lucky to live in what I personally rank as the best restaurant city in the world, and no meal in our great city is complete without their tome at the table.”
To be in a room with John, Max and Al is to experience the tumultuous discourse of the most combative critics in the food world. With their arrogance, pomposity and sarcasm, they know fully of what they write but are a recipe for trouble with screaming, fighting and hair tearing. It’s a wonder they didn’t kill one another other in the process, although that would certainly have delighted some of our valley’s chefs and restaurant owners. Last year, they shook up many of the food foundations of our restaurant rows and this year have held nothing back to stir the pot again.
Don’t be surprised if Hollywood producers come a-calling. Remember “Siskel & Ebert”? I could easily see the authors picking up a meat cleaver and slamming it into the kitchen chopping block for effect. We’ll have coverage from tonight’s private party here at Vegas DeLuxe on Tuesday.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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