On the plate, it was a very good year. In revisiting their best bites of 2011, the Weekly food critics will get you salivating for 2012.
1. Oxtail Bucatini with Oxtail Sauce (Le Cirque, at Bellagio) This Gregory Pugin dish looks like a plain, savory custard but unspools to reveal bucatini strands hiding insanely rich braised oxtail. It’s a meat dish made by angels with a devilish calorie count, and it might be the biggest umami bomb of the year.
2. Roasted Sea Bass over Arugula (Due Forni, 3555 S. Town Center Dr.) Take a talented Italian chef (Carlos Buscaglia) and give him an 800 degree oven and a juicy piece of branzino—in a minute or two he can turn out a crispy, succulent seafood wonder, atop a bed of tangy arugula sprinkled with capers. The best off-Strip seafood dish I had this year.
3. Dover Sole Meuniere (Eiffel Tower Restaurant, at Paris Las Vegas) Simple and sublime fish, served with just the right crust and just a touch of lemon. Sure, it’s expensive ($69), but it’s also one of the best tasting fish in the world, and they don’t charge for the view.
4. Mascarpone Cheesecake (RM Seafood, at Mandalay Place) Theresa Gwizdaloski’s deceptively simple concoction of sublime sophistication performs the seemingly impossible feat of being both adult and childlike. It combines silky, grown-up cheesecake with three flavors (caramel sauce, bubble gum sorbet and malted milk foam) straight from the kiddie-pleasing playbook.
5. Cheddar Cheeseburger (P.J. Clarke’s, at the Forum Shops) Meyer Ranch beef, the perfect grind, seasoned right and cooked to medium rare—this is the gold standard of Strip burgers, for $5-$10 less than those at most steakhouses. The squishy bun is a plus and a must.
1. Bulgogi-Fried Rice (KoMex Fusion Express, 633 N. Decatur Blvd.) KoMex’s menu is strewn with dishes requested by—and named for—its patrons. You can find this smoky, sweet offering under “Jim’s fried rice.”
2. Caramel Budino (D.O.C.G. Enoteca, at the Cosmopolitan) Sweet and salty? Yes and yes! The Italian pudding at Scott Conant’s casual Cosmo eatery comes adorned with sea salt for a simple flavor contrast in every spoonful.
3. Pad See-Yew (David Wong’s Pan Asian, 2980 S. Durango Dr.) David’s name is on the marquee, but his wife Lisa does the hard work, wok-frying this wide-noodle dish just long enough for perfect smokiness, caramelization and texture.
4. Oxtail Eggs Benedict (Comme Ça, at the Cosmopolitan) Chef Brian Howard’s maniacal mastery brings us braised oxtail, poached eggs and organic spinach atop a Gruyere and pepper pastry—all smothered in bone marrow and truffle Hollandaise sauce.
5. Pepperoni and Meatball Panzarotti (Papa Geo’s, 5597 S. Rainbow Blvd.) Mama Geo hand-prepares each wonderful pocket of joy. If you ask nicely, she’ll combine her housemade meatballs with some pepperoni for a cheesy, meaty extravaganza.
1. Zooza Benny (Zoozacrackers, at Wynn Las Vegas) Old-school deli gets decadent with chef Sammy Morse’s housemade pastrami and corned beef stacked on crisp potato latkes with poached eggs, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. I just drooled on my keyboard.
2. Ricotta Ravioli with Smoked Salmon (Aureole, at Mandalay Bay) This incredibly refined starting dish—a smoky, creamy masterpiece augmented with baby artichokes, sugar snap peas and a lemon-thyme sauce—packs enough flavor for an entire meal.
3. Chicken Scarpariello (Rao’s, at Caesars Palace) Perfect poultry and spicy-sweet Italian sausage swim in a sea of vinegary peppers and garlicky butter sauce. It’s tough to pick a favorite dish at Rao’s; it’s even tougher not to order this one.
4. Maple Glazed Quail (Vic & Anthony’s, at Golden Nugget) The Nugget’s steakhouse is Downtown’s best restaurant overall because of inventive dishes like this, a beautifully caramelized bird that looks as good as it tastes.
5. Chips and Irish Curry Sauce (Rí Rá, at Mandalay Place) This is the guilty pleasure pick, full of simple savory goodness: crispy French fries (doesn’t matter what they call them across the pond) are drizzled with a powerful curry-ish gravy. Consider it Irish poutine.