Where Are They Now?
As the title implies, Where Are They Now? spared no resource to find our rock ’n’ roll heroes usually from the 1980s because there was a time when VH-1 loved the 1980s. The importance of this show cannot be overstated. How were we to sleep without knowing that Andrew Ridgely, the other guy from Wham!, moved to a restored 15th century country home in Cornwall, England?
Like great musicians, great chefs are always evolving, trying to create that next hit. Some chefs expand their repertoire while others hone in on their specialties while still others find collaborators to push them to new heights.
This article is our Where Are They Now? While I do not have an update on Lisa Lisa nor any members of The Cult Jam, what I do have are up to the minute statuses on a few of the chefs and restaurants we’ve featured before in this column. Let’s catch up with some of Las Vegas’s favorite culinary personalities as they play their newest hits for us.
Nobody has captured the imagination of the Las Vegas food scene quite like the foul-mouthed chef /restaurateur who brought Esther’s Kitchen to the Arts District. Trees, who curses so much he’d have had a good career as a sailor, has become a force to be reckoned with. The either affable or prickly big fella – depending on when you connect with him – is demanding of his team and expects them to put out the best Italian food in town, all for a reasonable price.
Since we last checked in with Trees, he has opened and shut a sandwich spot on top of The Strat called 108 Eats and has branched out to his second Italian outpost, the casual Ada’s in Tivoli Village.
The pastel green walls at Ada’s tell you that you are in Summerlin. Either there or 1980s Miami. It gives the restaurant a different feel than Esther’s, though much of the cuisine is an extension of what Trees started at his first restaurant. Go-to dishes here include arancini, an umami laden rice ball courtesy of mushroom risotto and hints of truffle, the pear and bleu cheese pizza, which shares the dough with spicy honey, bacon and caramelized onions, and two pastas.
The gemelli is totally tubular, but that ‘80s slang is a totally accurate description of the noodles. While the walls might be a calming green, this dish is aggressively green thanks to components including pesto, pistachio and peas+greens. If there is a fresher tasting pasta in town, I haven’t found it.
Meanwhile radiatore is a specialty at lunch at Esther’s, but at Ada’s the squiggly spiraling pasta is served all day, with fermented black garlic cream, chive, and a pop of lemon that is essential to each bite.
Speaking of lunch, check out the pea falafel wrap at Ada’s, a worthy iteration of a dish Vegas hasn’t shown out too well on.
Or better yet, go for weekend brunch and grab your wrap with some other must have items, including a banging veggie quiche, as good as any French bistro in The Valley, and Ada’s Eggs. Soft-scrambled eggs, cheese, herbs toast – it’s so simple! So why isn’t every version as good as this?
The cocktail program, led by acclaimed bartender Sonia Stelea, features classic, market, and cart cocktails. The cart cocktails are made tableside and exclusively feature names of movies from the 1980s and 1990s, more specifically, names of John Hughes movies! Drink away your nostalgic teen angst with cocktails including “Weird Science” and the lesser appreciated “Dutch.”
When I asked Trees if people realize that he has homaged an entire cocktail section to John Hughes, he succinctly responded, “No one ever.” So catch up on your Hughesian alcoholic concoctions. Grab a “Home Alone” which contains Mahon Gin, juniper berries, rosemary, and fever tonic. It’s the perfect libation to have before using your household toys to thwart two bumbling burglars during the Christmas season.
And don’t you…forget to down “The Breakfast Club,” a combination of scrappy individual characters like Few Breakfast Gin, orange wheel, coriander, and Small hands tonic. Though each of these personalities are fine on their own, together they overcome the day and find their greater value.
One of the highlights of Ada’s, upon its inception, was Best Ice Cream, an old-style ice cream counter serving not so old-style flavors like balsamic strawberry and buttermilk and a stupidly good New York blueberry cheesecake. Trees didn’t feel it quite fit this location and is currently looking for a new home for his dessert stand. Personally, I feel there was a missed opportunity to not have Trees serve some scoops while dressed like the Good Humor Man, but that’s an argument for another day.
The chef also continues to pursue new ventures, including Daniela, his grand chop house idea featuring upscale yet approachable Italian seafood and steaks. If it comes to fruition, this will be a place for high powered business dinners or a three martini lunch, as long as the martinis also pay respect to John Hughes with their names.
Ada’s peach prosciuotto pizza
Sheridan Su & Jenny Wong
“With Every Grain, I’m picking myself back up and restarting. It’s a restart on my financials and my mentality,” Sheridan Su tells me of his new concept on East Charleston Boulevard.
Yes, it’s back to basics for Su and wife Jenny Wong, the couple who popularized the Asian diner concept in Las Vegas when they opened Fat Choy seven years ago. Foodies throughout the city fell in love with their second concept, Flock & Fowl (which is where we covered them), a small storefront specializing in riffs on Hainan chicken rice. Have you noticed other restaurants now feature the dish?
But what was “ours” became everyone’s when Flock shuttered its tiny Sahara location and moved into the Zappos-centric Ogden High Rise downtown. The food was still legit, but the magic was gone. Don’t get me wrong. To this day, one can still enjoy a fine lunch at the joint, but it doesn’t feel like the secret club for the rabid foodie community anymore.
Enter Every Grain. Su and Wong have opened an even more obscure concept at an even more inconvenient location and fans of the two couldn’t be happier. Every Grain, like Flock & Fowl, has built its entire menu around one dish, in this case lu rou fan, Taiwanese braised minced pork rice. It’s every bit as good as it sounds. Says Su of it, “If you go out to Taiwan, you’ll find this dish everywhere from north to south, east to west. A lot of meals are based around this rice.”
But Su has amped up the traditional version with his take. He uses a blend of different rices, which currently includes koshi hikari rice, forbidden black rice, brown rice from Lundberg family farms, and sweet rice from Kona Farms. “These are all very high quality rices and I’m just happy to be able to present them,” states Su with a smile.
Add your protein of choice, maybe Su’s stunning roast chicken or a breaded pork cutlet that will make you fall in love with katsu style preparation or a thick block of braised tofu, mix it with the rice and the sauces and you’re in business.
There are also bowls for noodle lovers. Su has been making the best sesame noodles in Las Vegas since back in the day when he was still cooking out of a tiny room in a nail salon, and this take lives up to his reputation. They are prepared simply, with a vinegar based sesame sauce, fresh cucumbers, roasted peanuts, and fried shallots.
Dan dan noodles are also slathered with the delectable sesame sauce and also come with preserved cabbage, ground pork, fried shallots, and peanuts. They are both delicious.
Wong, who now cooks at Fat Choy part time as well, continues her reign as one of the more engaging front of house personalities in Las Vegas. She has curated a tea program featuring different green and black teas that she buys from Tealet, a business run by tea magnate Elyse Peterson, which connects buyers to direct source farmers across the globe.
She offers tableside tea service, daily aqua frescas, and coffee that will kick your ass into high gear.
“Beta,” is how Wong refers to the space currently. “Everything is on wheels,” she tells me, so they can continue to play with the design. Black tables and chairs adorn the dining area which, when they opened last month, had all of nine seats in it. Every Grain is currently up to 24 seats, which, for fans of Su and Wong, is plenty. Part of their charm has always been that their restaurants feel like an extension of their home dining area.
Crispy skin spring chicken ginger scallion + Lu Rou Fan. Photo by Ginger Bruner.
Justin Kingsley Hall
One of the most anticipated openings of this year is Main St. Provisions, which executive chef Justin Kingsley Hall says hearkens back to, “Sunday supper, when mom would use the good china and napkins. Everyone would be dressed a little nicer than usual, laying into a great spread she had prepared.”
Main St. Provisions sounds like the imaginative venture Hall would be involved with, having previously cooked the dishes of Central Coastal California at his SLO-Boy (San Luis Obisbo) stand outside Dino’s Las Vegas – “The Last Neighborhood Dive Bar.” It was an odd yet successful juxtaposition.
We focused on Hall when he took over The Kitchen at Atomic, which was in desperate need of his help at the time. After a clumsy opening, Hall righted the ship at The Kitchen and refined his takes on modern spins of dishes influenced by classic Americana. Of his time there, Hall states, “Although we had a lot of fun in the 16 months I was at Atomic, there were still many things evolving for myself. My family was growing and so were my thoughts about the future. For probably the first time in my life, I was trying to look further than a year or two away down the road.”
While reflecting on what would become of his career, he connected with Kim Owens as she began preparing her first eatery, the aforementioned Main St. Provisions.
Of the fit, Owens says, “When I decided to open a restaurant, I wanted to find a chef who could take my vision of elevated comfort food and put a twist on it. Justin was cooking interesting and exciting dishes, while always thinking about from where and how the ingredients were sourced.” She adds, “By doing that, he always creates dishes that show respect to the ingredients. It’s his passion for his food and his people that reflect the person and chef he is.”
For the foodie nerds out there, she sees Hall as the Las Vegas male counterpart to Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune in New York City.
While we’re all still waiting to see what will actually take shape at The Arts District culinary space and how Hamiltonian it will actually be, Hall wants us to expect dishes like, “The Idaho Scotch Egg (which features) sustainably farmed smoked trout around a soft boiled egg, deep fried, served with a trout roe verbena cream” and “French City Ham” which he describes as “think waffle house meets the Chablis wine country of France…cast iron seared artisan ham steak, tomato white wine sauce, and charred endive.”
Anyone who tried Hall’s food at The Kitchen at Atomic knows these sound like winners, as his brunch was often a highlight to closing out a debauchery-filled weekend on Fremont East.
Now, you’ll just have to have your debauchery — and thoughtfully sourced, ingredient driven meals — on Main Street.
Lavendar honey whole roasted chicken
The Monkey Bar
Jolene Mannina, Secretburger.com
Selfishly, I wanted to write a little more about secretburger.com, the website designed to combat FOMO, the fear of missing out, by offering exclusive, off the menu items, for succinct periods of time at some of the best restaurants, not only in Las Vegas, but also cities like Denver, New York City, and Portland.
I became so enamored with this concept that I teamed up with the mind behind it, Jolene Mannina, to create a standup comedy show/dinner event at Piero’s Italian Cuisine called Live From The Monkey Bar. Each show – expect about 10 over the course of this year – will feature some of the best comedians in Las Vegas and beyond, plus a curated menu from new Piero’s executive chef, Chris Conlon.
The Monkey Bar, home to Pia Zadora, seats only 50 people, so we are excited to offer something intimate yet scalable. We feel like we are offering something unique and worthwhile for both foodies and comedy fanatics. The initial installment takes place January 26 and proudly, I can say we sold out in less than 24 hours.
That’s my quick plug!
There are more chefs on the move, more food personalities doing exciting things in Las Vegas and more great cuisine to keep track of than ever before.
While we will continue to track the different paths of our favorite gastronomes, what we can honestly say is that what we really want is for one of them to open up a place in a restored 15th Century country home in Cornwall, or anywhere else in England. Wham!