Critics write the book on Vegas, PLus Brian Howard dishes and Poppy Den dreams

Cookbooks and restaurant guides make excellent and practical Christmas gifts, and this year, there are two I wish to plug. The first is Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery ($50, Artisan), a large tome that the chef wrote with pastry chef and Frenchman Sebastien Rouxel. This is both a coffee-table book and a practical guide to baking both bread and pastry.

Keller told the press last week that the best thing a home baker can do to improve results is to buy a gram scale. “Baking is precision,” he told a crowd at Bouchon Bistro, his Venezia Tower restaurant. The second best thing, though, is to buy this beautifully illustrated and designed book.

I’d be remiss, then, if I didn’t plug my own book, Eating Las Vegas 2013, ($13, Huntington Press) by John Curtas, Al Mancini and me, with a foreword by GQ restaurant critic Alan Richman. The three of us go at it with our usual acrimony, yielding this year’s list of the 50 essential Las Vegas restaurants, each one taken apart separately by three very biased writers. The book also features a Top 10 restaurant list, and extensive information in the back of the book with regard to Chinatown, pizza, burgers and many other categories.

Meanwhile, chef Brian Howard has been busy at Comme Ça (in the Cosmopolitan, 698-7910), developing a new fall menu with his boss, chef/owner David Myers. (Howard is also marrying his girlfriend this week after a 10-year courtship; congratulations on both fronts.) I stopped in for a few dishes, as Howard again demonstrated why his restaurant is one of the Strip’s most innovative. Appetizers included slow-braised tongue, buttermilk-fried frog legs, duck confit with house-smoked bacon and cippolini onion, and a salad of pear and endive.

Entrées showed even more imagination. Leading the pack was a spice-rubbed pork Porterhouse from the Pahrump farm Howard shares with Nove chef Geno Bernardo; and a tender, glazed lamb shank accompanied by roasted butternut squash, currants and toasted hazelnut. The restaurant is doing seasonal side dishes as well: Creamed corn with chicharróns, Espelette pepper and lime is quite unusual; and charred Brussels sprouts with maple bacon and Banyuls (a sweet red wine from southeast France) is an inspired creation.

Many of us are looking forward to an end-of-the-year opening for Poppy Den, an Asian gastropub in Tivoli Village. The chef, Angelo Sosa, is quite a creative fellow. Things finally appear to be hopping at Tivoli. Bravo!

Finally, Bryan Forgione has been appointed executive chef at Society in Encore, replacing mentor Kim Canteenwalla, who is concentrating his efforts on Honey Salt. Bryan is the son of iconic American chef Larry Forgione, and Iron Chef Marc Forgione’s brother, so it’s all in the family. He’s a terrific talent, and I can’t wait to try his food.

Hungry, yet?

Suggested Next Read

Have a Ball


Have a Ball

By Max Jacobson

Opening the right concept in the right place at the right time won’t ensure success in the restaurant business. Add a talented, passionate chef the likes of Carla Pellegrino—who owns Bratalian in Henderson and recently got a divorce from Bacio at the Tropicana—and your chances suddenly go from very good to excellent. Max’s Menu Picks Beef meatballs, $6.95. Baby arugula salad, $5.95 (half), $9.95 (full). Pizzas, $9.95 (half tray), $14.95 (full tray).