By Vegas Food Nerd

I have to preface this month’s column by saying one simple truth: I love pizza.

I know, I know – not really a shocking confession or anything like that, but I will eat just about any kind of pizza. Doesn’t have to be the best pizza. If a piece of pizza is sitting in front of me, it will be eaten. That is why after reading in Robin Leach’s latest column that the new pizza joint at the newly opened and refurbished SLS actually flies their flour and water used to make their pizza dough directly from Naples, Italy, I knew I had to try this place, and fast.

This was the first time that my friend and I had checked out what the SLS was like after SBE switched it from the once iconic Sahara Hotel and Casino to the Miami Beach-themed casino that now sits on the same corner. Leave it to Las Vegas to not celebrate our history and just put something new up to placate a certain species of tourist at any given moment. The re-do of the hotel is impressive, though it just struck me as a bad fit for the type of guests that were walking around the casino floor: a bevy of fanny packs, Asian tourists, walkers, and nice Midwestern folks, who didn’t seem to be the match-up with this now Miami-feeling hotel.

Okay, on to 800 Degrees Pizza. The sleek black restaurant is a fast-styled casual restaurant, which sadly is all the rage of the younger demographic these days. I tend to go to a restaurant to get served, not to have to serve myself. We ordered a BLT Pizza, a pie with toppings listed on the menu board as bacon marmalade, arugula, and cherry tomatoes. We also ordered the Burrata Salad with beets and balsamic, as well as the Broccolini, wood-roasted with garlic, Calabrian chiles, and olive oil. Once we got to the front of the line, we also ordered a couple of Stellas, because, well, beer and pizza seem to just go together, at least to us anyway. This is where our meal started to go very wrong. Our salad was ready, so I grabbed it and headed to an open table while my friend went to get silverware, napkins, and also waited at the counter for our two beers. Well, he waited a while… so long that our fresh, piping hot pizza was delivered right in front of me while he kept on waiting. I had no plates, no beer and no utensils while this pizza sat in front of me. True torture for a pizza fiend like me. Finally they figured out that our beer was no longer available on tap and gave my friend an alternative choice. The guy did offer to refill it for free, but at this point our pizza was lukewarm and we were pretty bummed out. Then, on top of it all, they forgot to top our BLT Pizza with the arugula. At that point, we just enjoyed our somewhat warm pizza and didn’t mention it to anyone. Next time I visit the SLS I will try the noodle place. They actually make the noodles fresh in front of you through a big glass window. It looked amazing as we left and headed to our car.

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Every fall, I look forward to hosting the Aureole New York Oyster Social: endless oysters and some of our region’s best seasonal seafood fare, served with lots of beer and Bloody Marys, a grand event culminating in our annual shucking contest, that time-honored spectator sport from New England to New Orleans. In this era of local consciousness about food, we celebrate the oyster, because nothing else you’ll ever eat bestows such a sense of place.

Oysters, found in estuaries where seawater mixes with fresh water, have the power to transport through taste because their flavor and texture is a direct result of their locality. Even their shells are made up of calcium carbonate, which is abundant in seawater. Oysters truly are exactly what they eat, right down to the mineral content, salinity and temperature of the water pumped through their gills. The colder the water in which it resides, the crisper (or firmer) the texture of the oyster and the flintier (or mineral-like) the taste. Warm water oysters are sweeter and meatier—the reason those extra-large oysters you find along the Gulf coast are typically propped up by a saltine and hit with a dash of hot sauce to enhance their mild flavor.

As filter feeders, oysters play a role in safeguarding their regional marine ecosystems. This sustainability is one of the reasons that cultivated oysters are just as good as—if not superior to—those in the wild. Oyster farmers such as Hog Island in Tomales Bay or Rappahannock River Oysters™ in the Chesapeake may better an oyster’s chance of survival by managing reproduction and giving fertilized eggs (called spat) a safe place to “fall” (where the spat can safely attach). But the oyster continues to feed only on what nature gives it, by filtering anywhere from 20 to 50 gallons of sea water a day through its gills (removing phytoplankton and other nutrients), and so different places still create different tastes, the reason oysters are named for the areas in which they originate, like wine appellations.

It may be hard to believe, but every Native East Coast oyster from the Malpeques of Prince Edward Island, light-bodied with a crisp lettuce-like finish, and the plump, mild Wellfleets of Cape Cod, right down the coast to the slightly sweet Chesapeake Bay Stingrays and distinctively briny Chincoteague Bay Oysters is the same species (crassostrea virginica) with flavor differences being the result of their local waters. In the Pacific Northwest, the only native species native is the tiny Olympia, named after the thriving oyster community of Olympia in Washington’s Puget Sound. Once a casualty of shoreline pollution and overfishing (particularly during the California Gold Rush), the Olympia is making a slow comeback and its small size makes a perfect cocktail oyster. However, as the Olympia went into extinction, exotic varieties were imported from Japan to revitalize the regional industry, like the slightly sweet Kumamoto oyster, known for its subtly mineral flavor.

At Charlie Palmer Steak Las Vegas, we don’t play favorites. We draw our impeccable oysters from both coasts. For our Oysters of the Day, we like to bestow some sparkle with a spoonful of delicate and tangy Champagne Mignonette, and we go all-out in our Shellfish Platter, a grand extravaganza that partners the oysters with clams, mussels, crab claws, lobster, shrimp, and more. In either case, we serve our oysters on a bed of crushed ice, not only to keep them cold, but to keep them level, so you don’t lose any of the nectar, which can be as refreshing as a dip in the ocean. Come on in, the water’s fine. —Charlie 

Charlie Palmer Steak • The Four Seasons Hotel. • 702.632.5120 •

STRIPLVDINING - Mercadito by Vegas Food Nerd



By Vegas Food Nerd

Recently opened in Red Rock Casino out in Summerlin is a new spot for Mexican food. We are certainly not short on Mexican restaurants here in the Las Vegas Valley, but with a billboard for the place which actually reads: 

“The Taco that will change your life” 

—I had to try this place for the sheer chance that I might have a life-altering experience. 

The night that I put that lofty declaration to the test was a Friday night. Immediately, I was struck by the high level of volume in the place. It was too loud, though that seems to be what many diners long for lately. Texting is dominating good old-fashioned conversation these days, but that is a rant for a different day. The interior is dark and sleek with great lighting that will compliment just about anyone. So if you are overindulging in electronics at the time, it might be a perfect time for an all-too-common and narcissistic selfie. It is modern, yet the wood floors and ceilings bring nice warmth to the space. The dining room indoors is a bit scrunched with their seating, so if you are looking for more space, I would suggest trying the patio on your visit. 

Mercadito, which translates to “Little Market,” is the vision of Chicago-based Mercadito hospitality, which was created by the Sandoval brothers, who were inspired by the little markets that they remembered from Mexico. The flavors they experienced growing up in Mexico helped to create this gourmet take on the standard Mexican restaurant that most are familiar with. The Tippling brothers came in to help them craft a unique cocktail menu that really complements the food. 

We started with a Guacamole Sampler and their Salsa Sampler. Some big standouts for us were the Tocino Guac that was made with crispy hominy, bacon, corn, and their pico de gallo, as well as the Habanero Salsa with its nice, smoky flavor. The chips were warm and crispy and this sampler tasting of flavors was a fun alternative to the standard baskets of chips and salsa that you get in other restaurants. Sure, they do charge for this option, but it is worth it. Generally, if you aren’t digging the chips and salsa that other spots offer gratis, you still end up filling up on them, even if they are sub par. 

Next up, we had to get to those Tacos. Each order of Tacos is served with 4 small Tacos, making it ideal to order a few different varieties and share at your table. We tried three varieties: the Blackened Swordfish Tacos (Espadas), Chicken (Pollo), and the Skirt Steak Tacos (Carne). All were unique and incredibly flavorful. The homemade corn tortillas really added to the tacos, as well. They offer bibb lettuce as a replacement to those amazing tortillas if you are watching your waistline, but I’d advise against it. 

Our server raved about the Pollo a Las Brasas Chile-Crusted Chicken with Plantains served alongside their homemade Black Beans and Rice. I couldn’t resist adding a side of their take on Macaroni and Cheese. The chicken wasn’t our favorite dish, but those Rice and Black Beans and the Macaroni and Cheese were just incredible. Usually I leave the rice and beans till the end, but their version was so good that I can see making a meal out of just an order of them on their own. The Mac and Cheese was a comforting, gooey concoction of poblano chilies, corn, and manchego cheese, perfecting a classic dish with a touch of Mexican flair. 

We also spent a little time trying a few of the Tippling Brothers’ cocktail mash-ups. The Sangria was excellent, but there was one true standout that got our attention. The V-9 is one of the more inventive libations that I’ve sampled in a while. It is a Tesoro Blanco Tequila mixed with pineapple juice, ginger, fresh lime juice, and super greens juice. Served in a glass that has been dipped in a blend of salt and other slightly hot spices, this drink was a table favorite. Savory, slightly sweet, and a slight burn to the tongue, it was worth a second round. 

The buzz in the food world is that gourmet level Street Tacos may well become the new Sushi to foodies out there, and Mercadito food and service are proving that could be the case. A tad overpriced, but so is much of the food at Red Rock Casino. At least you’ll know your palate will be smiling when you leave. Now you have to be wondering, did that Taco change my life? No, not exactly, but I was a very happy and content food nerd when I left, so it did improve my spirits at least. 

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If there is one accurate word to describe the dining scene in our fine city, it would have to be:  NEW!  

Brand new cuisine, hot new chefs, and trendy restaurants are springing up around the Valley, faster than Elvis could gobble up a peanut butter and banana sandwich.  As a food lover to the max, trying new places is always enticing, but the classics that help to pioneer our new gastronomical scene are truly worth visiting again and again.  Without these “now” Mega Chefs, our city would be stuck in the never-ending cycle of $ .99 shrimp cocktails, and steak and egg specials.   

So with all the new sushi spots popping up here and there, I command you to experience at least one meal at the classic haunt, Nobu, before you try any of the others.  I command you, and so does Chef Matsuhisa, and his longtime partner legendary film actor, Robert De Niro.  Nobu is about to become new again with the planned opening of its new restaurant and tower at Caesars Palace this fall.   At 11,200 square-feet, and with 327 seats, Nobu Caesar’s Palace will be the restaurant’s largest branch to date.  The new outpost will specialize in new Japanese cuisine, and will offer several Teppanyaki tables, a sushi bar, and private dining with a large lounge and bar.

So before the mega new Nobu graces our city, head back to the soon to be cozy version of Nobu at the Hard Rock Hotel and enjoy all it has to offer.  Go in with an adventurous attitude and enjoy some of their signature dishes.  Nobu recommends you start with a few cold dishes, move onto some hot dishes, and then end with some sushi or sashimi.   

At a recent visit, we enjoyed some unique and unforgettable flavors that I highly recommend trying.  First we started with the Toro, and Salmon Tartare.  You are served a round portion of each, both sitting in a pool of wasabi sauce and topped with caviar.  The flavors blended and melted on your tongue – just incredible.  On the side, be sure to try the Yamamomo (a Japanese mountain berry), which is meant to cleanse the palate.  Next came the yellow tail sashimi with jalapeno and citrus ponzu sauce.  Delicate and buttery with a slight spicy tangy kick, this was devoured by the entire table with happy grinning faces.

On to a few hot dishes, first up:  the dish that launched Nobu to fame – the not to be missed – black cod with miso.  Glazed with mirin, sake, and miso on the outside, and a sweet creamy inside, this dish is worthy of all the hype bestowed upon it.  It is garnished with a hajikami (pickled ginger shoot).  Then a dish suggested by our waiter was next up on the table:  seared scallops with a delicate butter sauce served atop sautéed brussel sprout leaves.   The scallops were tender and flavorful, but the brussel sprouts were the true start of this dish, and not one leaf remained.  Then a seasonal special of tempura-fried soft shell crab in a sweet chili sauce was presented to us.  Its freshness was unbeatable and the tempura crust blended perfectly with the crab.  Usually, not a fan of the soft-shelled little guys, I loved this dish and the chili sauce was a perfect fit to swirl the legs in and enjoy.  We also tried the soft shell crab sushi along with this dish.  While good in its own right, it didn’t compare – I felt the rice in the roll overwhelmed the subtle flavor of the crab.

Then in Nobu fashion, we had one more dish of the cold variety:  sweet shrimp sashimi.  I didn’t realize when the dish was ordered, that the sashimi comes with a very special accompaniment, tempura fried shrimp heads.  A bit of a surprise, but I said to be adventurous, right?  The sashimi was sweet and delicate with just the right amount of tenderness.  The heads?  They were amazingly tasty – crispy, briny goodness.  And finally, no meal at Nobu is complete without their decadent warm chocolate fondant cake in a bento box with a scoop of green tea ice cream.  It’s everything it sounds like.  So before you head to the “latest”, don’t forget to try one of the greatest.  Nobu is worth visiting again, and again.





By Chef Charlie Palmer


As a young chef working at The River Café in Brooklyn, I had a few seats to the most exciting show of New American cuisine. But that didn’t stop me from gravitating to old school steakhouses when I felt the need to celebrate. One of my favorites was Peter Luger, decorated with oversized beer steins and worn wooden tables, originally opened as Carl Luger’s Café Billiards and Bowling Alley in 1887 in Williamsburg Brooklyn, what was then a predominately German neighborhood. Almost as old as the Brooklyn Bridge, Peter Luger’s past is just as storied: In 1922, the restaurant was raided by enforcement agents who seized a treasure trove of imported wines and liquors, one of the reasons Brooklyn became known as the “wettest” borough in the city.

When Carl died, his business passed to his son Peter, who renamed it and presided over its success until the early 1940’s, when he passed it on to his son Fredrick, who inherited the restaurant, but not the knack of running it. On June 20, 1950, Peter Luger was sold to the only bidder: Sol Forman, a loyal customer who owned the metal-stamping factory across the street. Until then, Peter Luger’s had never even had a menu: The famous sliced tomatoes and onions, Porterhouse steak and French fries, just showed up when you sat down. It was Forman who added the shrimp cocktail, creamed spinach, salad, hash browns, and desserts—still the foundation of every single steakhouse menu. Today Peter Luger Steakhouse is run by women: Forman’s daughters and granddaughter. Although the meat is dry-aged in a proprietary manner within the restaurant’s temperature-controlled 2,000-square-foot industrial walk-in cooler, they keep many of the old-fashioned touches, including an actual reservation book with handwritten entries and a manual cash register, because they don’t take any plastic, except their open house card. There’s something nostalgic about getting a handwritten check – a reminder I’m in a steakhouse that can trace its history back for more than a century.

Another of my favorite classic New York steakhouses is Keens Chop House, the recipient of the 2013 James Beard America’s Classic Award, with cozy interconnected dark wood rooms spread over two floors of three connected townhouses, and a standout antique bar with one of the city’s best selection of whiskies, and a sign reading “No Service Will Be Provided to Anyone On a Horse. What’s really fascinating about the history of Keens is its legacy as a “pipe smoking club” with over 90,000 members, and today they have the largest collection of churchwarden pipes in the world, which line the ceilings, (a link to the 17th-century tradition of when travelers kept their clay pipes at their favorite inn). For more than a century, Keens has been famous for its huge roasted mutton chop. But I usually go for the dry-aged Porterhouse or Prime Rib with all the traditional sides, including the best hash brown patties I’ve ever had. Originally a clubhouse for the Lambs Club, a private theater and literary club, Keens opened to the public in 1885, and in 1905, Lillie Langtry, the reigning actress of her day, won women the right to dine at Keens.

Lillie Langtry’s victory, and the fact that Peter Luger is now run by women, inspired me when I opened Charlie Palmer Steak Las Vegas. Although I was certainly relating to my own love of celebrating in steakhouses, I decided to forego the customary dark wood and masculine décor and opt for an airy modernist space—something intimate and universally elegant that would be welcoming to the many women who consider Vegas to be a perfect “girlfriends weekend” destination, as well as the astounding number of visitors from around the globe. I also tapped into the American quality beef movement, featuring Natural, raised with humane livestock management practices and environmental sustainability in a traditional manner, grass-fed, born, raised and finished on open green pastures, and grain-finished (meaning the cattle are fed on grain before being harvested to develop more marbling).

At its heart, the menu at Charlie Palmer Steak Las Vegas is made for sharing, reflecting a wide range of flavor, so everyone can make a contribution to the communal meal. Start with the Iced Shellfish Platter, a towering display of lobster, oysters, clams, shrimp and more, and then move on to the Porterhouse for Two, a true steakhouse masterpiece served with Truffled Potato Gratin. And, don’t forget the side of creamed spinach—it gives Luger’s a real run for their money. It’s the basics done big: The Charlie Palmer way. —Charlie

Charlie Palmer Steak • The Four Seasons Hotel. • 702.632.5120 •

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