Diner’s Notebook: Off the Strip buzz, Wal-Mart applause and some sage absinthe advice

I’m a compulsive reader of food blogs, but sometimes I wonder whether to take them seriously.

Off the Strip at 10670 Southern Highlands Parkway ranked No. 1 out of 1,739 Las Vegas restaurants on the website TripAdvisor. When I saw this, I had to rush over.

What I found is best described as a neighborhood joint for spaghetti with giant meatballs and some fancy fare, such as lobster ravioli. The menu is on a huge blackboard, and the portions are enormous. I like the friendly service, open kitchen, affordable prices and the rolled steak. The wine list, on a separate blackboard, is quite interesting.

My 20-year-old niece gave the food an eight; I’d stretch it to a six. So much for TripAdvisor.com, but it still rocks for Southern Highlands.

For the most part, the Web is full of invaluable information for anyone who takes food seriously. The website for The Atlantic Monthly (theatlantic.com), for example, has an article by Corby Kummer about “The Great Grocery Smackdown” between Wal-Mart’s organic produce and that of Whole Foods Markets.

Who won? Not Whole Foods.

I tried Pink Lady apples and Earthbound Farm’s lettuce and celery hearts at a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, and they were more than satisfactory and competitively priced. So far, the produce manager said, only a few customers are aware of the new program. That’s bound to change, though, and I applaud this new trend.

Another trendoid phenom is absinthe, the notorious spirit that was outlawed in this country until a few years ago because of wormwood, a noxious substance that is present in it. But the Food and Drug Administration allows so many parts per million, and now this bitter distillate is present in Las Vegas bars.

Sage, in Aria at CityCenter, has eight of them, one from San Francisco, four from France, two from Switzerland and one from Spain. I prefer San Francisco’s St. George Absinthe Verte, made from brandy and star anise, with not quite enough wormwood to make Verlaine or Rimbaud mad.

The best way to have it is in a Sazerac, the famous New Orleans drink here made with Peychaud bitters and not a little rye whiskey. But if you want to impress your date by being hip or dissolute, then have it the traditional way, strained through a sugar cube to reduce the bitter aftertaste. Go St. George. Buy American!

Hungry, yet?

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