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Dining

2010’s best bites

Three food critics serve up the most memorable flavors of the year

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Peanut butter waffles served with Bananas Foster and white chocolate mousse? Too much is never enough.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas
Jim Begley, John Curtas, Brock Radke

JIM BEGLEY

1. World Famous Spinach Salad Nittaya’s Secret Kitchen Individual leaves of lightly battered and fried spinach, served alongside a tart-yet-sweet larb gai (Thai chicken salad), combined for one of the most unique new tastes of 2010. Don’t let the “salad” part fool you; it’s better described as a meat dip with spinach chips.

2. Peanut Butter Belgian Waffle Roxy’s at the Stratosphere What happens when you bake a Belgian waffle with peanut butter, top it with Bananas Foster and serve it alongside white-chocolate mousse? Your daily sugar intake—courtesy of this maniacal concoction from chef Rick Giffen on Roxy’s revamped menu.

Fukuburger co-owners Colin Fukunaga (right) and Robert "Mags" Magsalin.

Fukuburger co-owners Colin Fukunaga (right) and Robert "Mags" Magsalin.

3. Chicken and Waffles Fukuburger Be on the lookout for Fuku’s chicken and waffles—honey and sesame fried chicken skewers on cinnamon-coated andagi (Okinawan doughnut holes similar to malasadas). Served with plenty of maple syrup, they’re a periodic offering that has already garnered such a resounding following the boys guarantee you’ll see them again. Good reason to look forward to 2011!

4. Chicken Marsala Cafe Martorano’s at the Rio For years chef Steve Martorano has offered his wares in our humble burg, yet only in 2010 did I try his take on this classic Italian dish. Pounded-thin chicken makes the perfect base for the sinfully superb sauce—the secret of which we’d tell you if he didn’t scare us so much. You’ll just have to try it yourself.

5. Stir-Fried Crispy Beef China Mama This westside favorite offers a number of incredibly good, authentic dishes, probably none more famous than the xiao long bao—steamed pork soup dumplings. As good as they are (and they are really good), our go-to dish is the stir-fried crispy beef, whose crunchy sweetness provides an ideal complement for the carrot slivers on which it rests.

JOHN CURTAS

1. Orange-Braised Fennel Lakeside Grill at the Wynn I get excited about a vegan dish about as often as I do a NASCAR race, but something about the deeply imbued citrus flavor inside these tender fennel bulbs can make even an old carnivore take notice. Chef David Walzog offers a number of other vegan options, but the combination of orange and licorice flavors makes this healthful dish irresistible.

2. Canneles de Bordeaux Sage at Aria Leave it to a Midwestern chef with a very American sensibility to revive a difficult-to-make, tiny 18th-century French dessert. Almost burnt on the outside and custardy within, Shawn McClain’s thimble-shaped cakes are so good (especially when topped with a white-chocolate ice cream and rum sabayon) that the first person at your table to take a bite will want the whole thing. Heed our advice: Order two.

3. 11-Month Dry Aged Porterhouse Carnevino at the Palazzo Simply put, dry-aged beef from another planet. According to Carnevino GM David Evers, these umami-depth-charged steaks are so popular (especially after the Weekly proclaimed them the best in Vegas), demand now outstrips supply and they must be reserved in advance. (Call a week ahead to see how old the oldest cuts are.) Whether you get the porterhouse or ribeye, anything aged more than six months will be so rich, one steak will feed the table.

Estiatorio Milos' salt-crusted lavraki

4. Salt-Crusted Lavraki (Mediterranean Sea Bass) Estiatorio Milos at the Cosmopolitan Fish this fresh is as rare in the Mojave as a stripper who’ll take a check. Find three friends—each ready to throw down the price of a mediocre steak—then sit back and watch the show unfold. A three-pound Mediterranean sea bass, less than 24 hours out of the Aegean, is baked in a salt crust, then unveiled and filleted tableside. Its meaty flesh is a revelation, as is everything else about this chic Greek restaurant.

5. Tonkotsu Ramen Noodle Soup Monta Noodle House Strip prices got you down? Grab a seat at this counter, order a big bowl of pork bone ramen for less than $8, add an ethereal poached egg and be prepared for the best and most economical eating in town. Kanpai!

BROCK RADKE

Bahn mi burger at Bachi Burger

1. Banh Mi Burger Bachi Burger Even though they keep popping up, I couldn’t be more tired of fancy, new burger joints. Bachi turned me around and broke the mold with this challenging combo of Vietnamese flavors—fish sauce, pickled veggies and jalapeños and a rich slice of paté—and true beefy burgerness.

2. Maple-Glazed Pork Belly Cut at the Palazzo Wolfgang Puck’s Palazzo palace is one of the best steakhouses on the Strip, but I have to order this appetizer every time: fatty and crispy pork with just the right amount of sweetness, doused in sesame-orange dressing with smooth pear compote. Bites like this are the reason we love bacon.

3. Kim Chi Fried Rice Monta Noodle House The porktastic tonkotsu ramen is definitely the ticket at this buzzed-about Japanese noodle joint, but the side dishes are equally tasty. I love fried rice, and this simple, sour-and-spicy rendition is sublime, perfectly oily and addictive.

4. Chicken Ginger Salad Nittaya’s Secret Kitchen Hidden among the sharing plates at this tiny new neighborhood discovery is this taste bud-tantalizer: tender ground chicken absolutely saturated with fresh ginger and a hot-and-cool lime dressing. Peanuts, onions and cilantro add some color and texture, but this refreshing dish is all about the sharpness of ginger.

5. The Royal Naked City I ate this killer East-Coast creation when the Naked City guys were slingin’ sandwiches from their Downtown location, and I’m happy to see it’s still on the menu at their new pizza shop inside Moon Doggie’s Bar. Spicy capicola ham, even more powerful Italian sausage and mozzarella cheese blend together for a messy but dominant submarine.

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