7 Great Meals

From downtown pancakes to a fancy porterhouse feast, our food critic shares his best of 2010

Photo by Anthony MairDu-par’s pancakes.

Photo by Anthony MairChef Mitsuo Endo of Raku.

I ate wonderfully this year, so it was tough to narrow down my favorite meals to seven. Each of the ones I’ve chosen (in no particular order) was unforgettable in its own way, and no two were alike. Most of the dishes are available year-round, except for what I ate at Guy Savoy, a fall menu, and at Switch Steak, a special-occasion dinner.

Guy Savoy. Most great restaurants in France shine in autumn, during game season. Here, a giant pumpkin was wheeled to each table, from which an unimaginably rich orange soup was ladled, swirled with crème fraiche and topped with shaved white truffles. The main course was hare a la Royale in a blood sauce. It came as a galantine, a roll as rich and funky as road kill in Montana. My wife couldn’t handle it. I ate hers as well. In Caesars Palace, 731-7110.

Du-par’s. Since moving here from Los Angeles in 1999, I’ve Jones’d for great pancakes like ones I ate regularly at Du-par’s in the Farmers Market. Thanks to the owners opening a Vegas branch at the Golden Gate Hotel, those pancakes are now available. My first breakfast here was a veritable feast: yeasty, fluffy pancakes drizzled with clarified butter and hot syrup, a chunky corned beef hash, real OJ and black coffee. I haven’t quite recovered yet. 1 Fremont St., 385-1906.

Aburiya Raku. I’m in awe of Mitsuo Endo, who just expanded Raku—his tiny aburiya, or gastropub—from rabbit warren to bread box. I ate many meals here this year, but one, highlighted by ayu, a Japanese river fish, and bacon-wrapped asparagus, stood out. I began with his legendary tofu topped with salmon roe, and finished with soboro gohan, some ground chicken and pickles on a mound of Japanese rice. Asian kid food. 5030 Spring Mountain Road, 367-3511.

Switch Steak. René Lenger, the chef at this shape-shifting restaurant, is from Vienna, and I’d say he’s cooking under speed here. One evening, he got frisky with smoked trout salad, tafelspitz (the seminal Viennese boiled-beef dinner), stuffed veal breast and beef heart with pasta. Did I mention that Viennese desserts are the best in the world? The chef did two, punschkrapfen (pink frosted, jam-filled cakes) and kaiserschmarrn (like a chopped-up soufflé sautéed in butter). Himmel! In Encore, 248-3463.

Payard Pâtisserie & Bistro. The three-course, prix fixe lunch is now $21, but it’s still the best deal on the Strip. The menu changes periodically. Here’s what I got: A superb butter-poached lobster salad with avocado, citrus fruits and at least five ounces of pure lobster meat; a clay pot of Moroccan-style couscous with merguez sausage and chicken; and for dessert, a rich Pont Neuf, chocolate mousse inside of a hazelnut feuilletine and a brownie. Are you kidding me, mon ami? Can you say “loss leader”? In Caesars Palace, 731-7110.

Strip House. Chef John Schenk flies under the radar, but he’s a longtime Vegas vet (remember Nectar in Bellagio?) and the corporate chef for Planet Hollywood’s Strip House. He makes incredible beef jerky and butchers his own steaks, but the best dish here is roasted bacon so good it is a sin even to think about it. One evening, I started with it, then a Caesar, then a 40-ounce porterhouse charred rare, truffled creamed spinach, and I topped the meal off with Baked Alaska. What a feast! In Planet Hollywood. 737-5200.

Estiatorio Milos. My last great dinner of the year was on Dec. 15, opening night at the Cosmopolitan. I tried to replicate what I ate at Milos in New York City in October, and the meal was virtually identical. That is to say, spectacular. We started with Greek sashimi—fagri, a sea bass, drizzled with lemon and olive oil—and then had a Greek salad. Later, an amazing roasted fish, the red mullet, arrived, with crisp skin. Crowning the dinner was a salt-baked lavraki, another Mediterranean bass, with flesh so moist it melted in the mouth like cotton candy. Greek food has arrived in Las Vegas at last. In the Cosmopolitan, 698-7000.