The James Beard Awards were held in New York on May 7, and even though Las Vegas restaurants were shut out, a few chefs with local connections did manage to win awards. But on the whole, we got screwed.
Most noteworthy, the irrepressible Wolfgang Puck won a Lifetime Achievement Award. He has long been an anchor of the Las Vegas dining scene at Spago, Postrio and other places, and it was well deserved. Charlie Trotter also got an award for Humanitarian of the Year. Trotter is one of the most original chefs in America, and it’s a pity that Restaurant Charlie, his Palazzo restaurant, was underappreciated. But don’t expect him to re-up here, since he’s closing his iconic Chicago restaurant soon as well. To see a full list of winners, visit JamesBeard.org.
If I were giving out awards, I’d find something for Café Berlin, where chef Rainer Matz is doing home-style German dishes that blow away the fare at Café Heidelberg or Hofbräuhaus. This is a simply decorated place (4850 W. Sunset Road, 875-4605, CafeBerlinLV.net), furnished with bridge chairs and unadorned tables. You eat with plastic ware from Styrofoam.
At lunch, there are giant sandwiches, half-pound monsters using Matz’ house-cured pastrami, or American fare such as roast beef or fresh turkey. Matz makes all his own sausages, and they are amazing. Bockwurst, a light veal sausage similar to weisswurst, Munich’s famous treat, has a light texture, and is wonderful with curry sauce. Matz is justifiably proud of the house-made sauces that blanket some of his schnitzels, expertly breaded pork cutlets. Mushroom gravy turns one into Jaeger schnitzel. Topped with capers and lemon, it becomes Wiener schnitzel. And don’t leave without trying a strudel—blueberry poppy seed, cherry or apple.
Meanwhile, restaurants continue to appear. The Arts District has the new Simpo Sandwich Shop at 300 E. Charleston Blvd. downtown; Pop Up Pizza has just opened at the Plaza; and Slice of Vegas, a New York-style pizza joint featuring chewy crusted pizzas, calzones, salads and sandwiches, has finally opened at Mandalay Place.
Finally, an edgy new 24/7 gastropub, Scottsdale, Ariz.’s Culinary Dropout, is slated to open poolside this summer at the Hard Rock Hotel. The pub will seat 320, and occupy 6,000 square feet of space, including an outdoor patio. A “one-of-a-kind” antipasto, house-baked pretzels with provolone fondue, shaved prime rib dip with onion soup and crunchy fried chicken with buttermilk biscuits are just a few items to anticipate.