Friday, Oct. 17, 2003 | 8:44 a.m.
Muriel Stevens' dining column appears Fridays. Her shopping and travel columns appear Wednesday. Reach her at (702) 259-4080 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Food writer John Mariani debunks the rumor that he is not a fan of Las Vegas dining in his list of "The Best New Restaurants in America 2003" in the November issue of Esquire, listing three local restaurants among the winners.
Mariani, a wine authority, food writer, author and devout bon vivant, says his most memorable meals were enjoyed in Las Vegas, citing Chef Julian Serrano of Picasso at Bellagio and Chef Alessandro Stratta of Renoir at The Mirage for their creativity and style.
To further prove his point, he names Simon Kitchen and Bar at the Hard Rock Hotel, Cafe Medici and Terrace at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las Vegas in Henderson and Crustacean/Prana at Desert Passage at the Aladdin on his list.
Mariani is a personable man, yet he gets downright peevish when he talks about celebrity chefs who have their names on a multitude of restaurants, but are so occupied with related commercial interests they are rarely in any of their kitchens.
Of course, the Esquire piece includes his thoughts about absentee chefs. Mariani was in Florida when we chatted about the Esquire article.
"If your name is on the awning and you are pretending to give the audience your best efforts -- a fine dining experience at a hefty price -- your efforts should include you!," he said. "I know that when one of my Esquire readers dines at one of the winning restaurants, the chefs and owners will be there."
The Esquire awards ceremony took place in NYC at the venerable 21 Club. Simon Kitchen owners Elizabeth Blau and Chef Kerry Simon were there. So were Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las Vegas Executive Chef of Food Operations Stephan Marshall and winning Chef Jeremy Lieb. The Best Design Award, a singular honor, was given to Crustacean/Prana at Desert Passage at the Aladdin.
Blau was in Houston when we talked.
"Winning this award was one of the most exciting moments of my professional career," she said. "Sitting in 21 with Kerry, getting recognition from my peers was blissful."
Chef Lieb is no longer at Cafe Medici. Shortly after the awards he returned to Le Cirque at Bellagio, where he had worked previously. He is now Le Cirque's chef de cuisine. Marshall is filling the void while the search for a new chef continues.
The An family owns Crustacean restaurants in Beverly Hills, Calif., San Francisco and Las Vegas. Each restaurant has its own personality, design and decor. Elizabeth An is the creative sister, though all family members contribute ideas.
Hannah An, who lives in Las Vegas, conveyed this message from the family: "We felt honored to receive this award, especially in Las Vegas where we were competing against so many famous restaurants."
Lacroix at the Rittenhouse in my hometown of Philadelphia was named Restaurant of the Year. Luis Bolio of Ibiza in New Haven, Conn., was dubbed Chef of the the Year. There's much more than restaurant awards in Mariani's piece. Included are trends -- the "in" foods and those that have given way to the new -- some very funny tidbits about restaurants and other choice cuts.
Nobody knows the truffles I've seen: I've followed the truffle season for many years, so I think that a live, via satellite, white truffle auction followed by lunch is a super way to spend an afternoon. This exclusive charity event will take place Oct. 26 at Valentino at The Venetian and will occur simultaneously with events in New York at Daniel Boulud's Cafe Boulud and in Alba, Italy, at Castello Grinzane. Truffle aficionado and Las Vegas rep for living the good life Robin Leach will serve as emcee at Valentino. The auction is by invitation only.
But wait, there's more: A multicourse, white truffle luncheon at Piero Selvaggio's Valentino will be prepared by Chef Luciano Pellegrini (Valentino), Chef David Robins (Spago) and Chef Alessandro Stratta (Renoir at The Mirage). Proceeds from the $150 ticket price will benefit Keep Memory Alive and The Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Clinic for Drug Abuse Treatment & Research. Seating is limited. Call 414-3033.
Goblins and popcorn: No goblins will getcha if you treat them with Ethel M's devilishly good Signature popcorn. There are three flavors: Almond Butter Krisps, a blend of almonds, toffee and gourmet popcorn enrobed with globs of delicious milk chocolate; Pecan Brittle, a combination of roasted pecans and popcorn coated with buttery brittle; and Lemon Satin Creme popcorn, created by drenching the gourmet popcorn in an original Lemon Satin Creme coating and a drizzle of luscious dark chocolate.
Such splendid stuff is only a sample of the Halloween goodies available at Ethel M. To place an order or to view the holiday candies and packages, visit www.EthelM.com or call 438-4356. My choice is to visit the factory store in Henderson. It gives samples.
More Halloween: Lawry's The Prime Rib in the Hughes Center at Howard Hughes Parkway and Flamingo Road will transport diners to Transylvania for a murder mystery costume dinner, "A Wedding in Transylvania." Tickets are $65 inclusive; performances are at 7 p.m. Oct. 30 and Halloween. Get ready for special effects, lots of scary happenings and Lawry's prime rib dinner.
Individual or group tickets are available. Call Nancy Marcellus for additional information or reservations.
Trick or Treat for UNICEF: Andre Rochat's three fine French restaurants, Andre's French Restaurant (Sixth Street), Andre's at the Monte Carlo Resort and Alize (Palms) will participate in a "Trick or Treat" fund-raiser for UNICEF on Halloween. One dollar from every meal will be contributed to support UNICEF's mission: "To provide all children with nutrition, health, education and protection." Sounds like a small amount, but just $1 can protect a child from polio or measles for life, provide a year's worth of iodine (iodized salt) for 20 children to fight iodine deficiency (which is the world's biggest cause of preventable mental retardation among children) and provide 30 children with a year's supply of vitamin A to protect against blindness.
This program was conceived by Epicurean icon Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit restaurant in NYC and is sponsored by Gourmet magazine. Top restaurants in eight major U.S. cities participate. For a complete list nationwide visit www.unicefusa.org/gourmet or www.gourmetscoop.com.
Ducasse at Mandalay Bay a done deal: Signed, sealed and ... you know the rest. Alain Ducasse and his partner, Jeffrey Chodorow, have inked a deal to open MIX at Mandalay Bay atop the new hotel's tower, which is under construction. It's still hush-hush, but an announcement will be made in November.