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, Chefs s ie d foo ritics and c eir pick thnal perso t bes

Mediterranean sea bass with ratatouille, basil oil and cherry tomato coulis from our Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year Page 42

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Burger City We meat business Holy high roller The final sermon of the gambling priest Words of war Author H. Lee Barnes remembers Vietnam

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editor’s note

Something to chew on

W Next Month in Desert Companion

Got questions? We have answers — in our Answers Issue

We owe the brainiacs at Brookings Mountain West a nice dinner. If Southern Nevada manages to crawl into the 21st century as anything more evolved than a place to feed some slot machines and catch a little Cirque, it’ll be thanks in large part to their ceaseless wonky prodding. Every so often, Brookings births another lap-crushing, toughlove report into the inboxes of scholars, policymakers and journalists, telling us Nevada needs to do better. Brookings says: Become a renewable energy hub, a global nexus for online gambling, a top-tier medical cluster serving the nation’s aging population. Something! These reports are the closest thing Brookings comes to shouting, “HEY NEVADA! HERE’S YOUR CHANCE TO SAVE YOURSELF!” Are we listening? I’m not sure, but maybe that’s just the fate of a think tank in a city not very given to thinking about the future. (I mean, look at how that whole uncheckedgrowth-as-economic-engine thing worked out.) But Brookings isn’t all Deep Thoughts and Bold Visions — and that’s good. In their latest report, “Unify, Regionalize, Diversify: An Economic Development Agenda for Nevada,” more modest game lope among the woolly mammoth ideas, proposed tactics that are small but smart, doable but effective, nips and tucks to shape the Vegas economy into something that doesn’t resemble a drunk construction worker perched on a two-legged stool in front of a video poker console. One idea: culinary tourism. The study points out that one in six Americans who vacation make food a feature of the trip, whether it’s in the form of cooking classes, restaurant crawls or something else. And whaddya know:

Over the last 20 years, Vegas has just happened to string together a necklace of some of the world’s best eateries. That development has even more gravity when you consider that, in recent years, fewer tourists who visit Vegas are gambling — and those who do gamble are spending less. However, visitors are still spending solidly on food — about twice as much as they do on shopping. Couple this with a growing, informed suspicion there’s an untapped market of jet-setting foodies out there, and you have a recipe for a bit of economic diversification. “Big-box gaming may just go the way of the big-box bookstore,” Mark Muro, Brookings Mountain West’s Washington D.C. research director, tells me. “Meanwhile, high-end culinary tourism represents a fresher, new line of engagement for the state economy. Fine dining is an industry that continues to grow, but it seems like it’s not as forcefully marketed as a nongaming reason to visit Las Vegas.” Tom Kaplan, senior managing partner of the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, has been giving this some thought as well. He tells me, “In fine dining, we’ve got the largest concentration of skilled, recognized

chefs in the world that, to me, rival London, New York and L.A.” He envisions Vegas foodie tours that involve restaurant visits, cooking classes and even courses in how to throw a killer dinner party. The first step, he says, is getting the casinos, the convention authority, state tourism officials and chambers of commerce to come up with a plan. But culinary tourism should be more than just an appetizing thought. So, when you turn to page 34 and drool over our picks for the best restaurants of 2011 — from suburban gems to crown jewels of the Strip — plan your next meal out with this bonus in mind: You’re doing your part for economic diversification, too. Nom! Andrew Kiraly, Editor

Correction After the publication of our August 2011 Top Doctors issue, information emerged about one of the physicians we profiled, gynecologic oncologist Dr. Nicola Spirtos. In January 2009, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter to Dr. Spirtos after an inspection of his records of certain clinical trials, which is available for viewing at ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/2009/ucm149280.htm. This fact did not come to light during the preparation of the Top Doctors list and profiles. After considering this information, Castle Connolly, the administrator of the Top Doctors survey, has decided to remove Spirtos from its website and regional listings.

Editor’s Note: Read an update to this correction here 2 D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 1

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All Things to All People

The new old museum



Dance dance revolution By Kimberly Schaefer



Remembrance of wars past By David McKee




34 features Our Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year’s pan-seared Tasmanian sea trout with braised cranberry beans, bacon and lemon confit

34 Restaurant awards

Our critics pick the best eating and drinking of 2011



From rock to theater to dance, your guide to culture


Last word Casting lots By David Hart



Burger City

The new official food of Las Vegas: the hamburger


Back to basics

The new restaurant rules: Keep it simple, fresh and friendly

on the cover Mediterranean sea bass with a ragout of ratatouille vegetables, basil oil and cherry tomato coulis Photography Christopher Smith

4 D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 1

S A L M O N A N D H . L E E B A R N E S : C hr i s to p her S m i t h ; R A i lroad e x h i b i t : S am p sel Pres ton Photo g ra p h y, L as V e g as

Doing good in the neighborhood By T.R. Witcher



p u blishe D B y nevada p u blic radio

Mission statement

Desert Companion is the premier city magazine that celebrates the pursuits, passions and aspirations of Southern Nevadans. With award-winning lifestyle journalism and design, Desert Companion does more than inform and entertain. We spark dialogue, engage people and define the spirit of the Las Vegas Valley. Editorial & Art Andrew Kiraly Editor CHRISTOPHER SMITH Art Director Advertising CHRISTINE KIELY Corporate Support Manager laura alcaraz National Account Manager Sharon Clifton Senior Account Executive allen grant Senior Account Executive elizabeth guernsey Account Executive Markus Van’t Hul Senior Account Executive Marketing Catherine Kim Marketing Manager Subscriptions Chris Bitonti Subscription Manager

SENIOR STAFF Florence M.E. Rogers President / General Manager Melanie Cannon Director of Development Cynthia M. Dobek Director of Business, Finance & Human Resources Phil Burger Director of Broadcast Operations Contributing WRiters Maureen Adamo, Jim Begley, Cybele, Gigi Generaux, Alexia Gyorody, Julie Hession, Gil Lempert-Schwarz, Max Jacobson, Heidi Kyser, Al Mancini, David McKee, Brock Radke, Howard Riell, Kimberly Schaefer, T.R. Witcher, John Witte, Misti Yang

Contributing Artists Aaron McKinney, Sabin Orr

OnLine Danielle Branton Web Administrator

It’s all connected. With smart grid and smart meter

technology, your home will have loads of new tools to help manage energy use and lower costs. Soon, they’ll all be right at your fingertips.

The future of energy. It’s right in our backyard. Learn more at

To submit your organization’s event listings for the Desert Companion events guide, send complete information to Feedback and story ideas are always welcome, too. editorial: Andrew Kiraly, (702) 259-7856; Fax: (702) 258-5646 Advertising: Christine Kiely, (702) 259-7813; Subscriptions: Chris Bitonti, (702) 259-7810; website: Desert Companion is published 12 times a year by Nevada Public Radio, 1289 S. Torrey Pines Dr., Las Vegas, NV 89146. It is available by subscription at, or as part of Nevada Public Radio membership. It is also distributed free of charge at select locations in the Las Vegas Valley. All photographs, artwork and ad designs printed are the sole property of Desert Companion and may not be duplicated or reproduced without the written permission of the publisher. The views of Desert Companion contributing writers are not necessarily the views of Desert Companion or Nevada Public Radio. Contact Chris Bitonti for back issues, which are available for purchase for $7.95.

ISSN 2157-8389 (print) ISSN 2157-8397 (online)

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Everything old is new again

M a mm ot h : S a m p s e l P r e s to n P h oto g r a p h y, L a s V e g a s


iDrink You know the finedining drill: The water’s served, the napkins are unfolded and then the waiter hands over the wine list — that unwieldy tome crawling with vineyard names, grape-growing regions and headscratching phrases like “dusky hints of tobacco and burnt oak.” That’s changing. Several fine dining restaurants in Las Vegas are going digital with the addition of iPads employing a system called SmartCellar. Developed by hospitality tech company Incentient, it aims to make choosing wine less intimidating for those of us who can’t remember whether we like pinot noir or petite sirah. “In the traditional way, if you had dinner with four friends, someone gets elected to look

There’s a shocking secret in the new Nevada State Museum. In the back — past the ichthyosaur fossil and the bighorn sheep and Comstock miners and railroad trucks, all those trusty icons of Silver State history — is … a shimmering pink wall stocked with elaborate showgirl costumes? Yes. It’s deliciously gaudy, a wall of dyed feathers, bangles and sequins. “People love this display,” says Curator of Collections Dennis McBride, who gazes up at it with something resembling paternal pride. “We wanted to make it glamorous and colorful, just like this piece of Las Vegas history.” It’s also an apt metaphor for the newThe new Nevada State Museum is ly opened Nevada State Museum in the bigger, better and Springs Preserve: The new building is bolder. filled with flashy surprises, from clever interactive exhibits to polished video diaround for hundreds of years, but Las Vegas is such oramas. After officials finally got word late in the a new city, it’s been lacking in a tradition of donors 2011 legislative session that the museum would, in creating cultural institutions. That’s what we tried fact, have enough money to pack, move and operto do here — to create something on that scale the ate, it opened Oct. 28 to nearly immediate buzz. community could be proud of.” Little wonder. It’s a quantum upgrade from its Two of the biggest upgrades are behind the former digs at Lorenzi Park — where the museum continued on pg. 12 scenes. More space means the museum has had been since 1982 — a hidden location that could more room to collect, store and exhibit aroften elicit a shrug and a, “We have a history museVisit the Desert tifacts from around the state — in other um?” Now with roughly twice the space — 70,000 Companion website to words, more cultural weight. The fact that keep up with events and square feet — the museum can do nearly twice as other DC news at the museum is now under the wing of the much. “I’m most pleased with the breadth of the state Department of Tourism and Cultural collection,” says McBride. “Now you can get a nice Affairs — not the now-dissolved Cultural idea of the entire history of the state of Nevada, Affairs department — means the museum can from prehistory to the present.” take advantage of promotional muscle from the But there’s an intangible benefit, too, one that state office charged with luring visitors. They call Museum Director David Millman hits on — and one the museum part of “cultural tourism,” but visiting that museum employees refer to when they talk the new museum is more akin to stepping into a about how, well, how authentically museum-y it is. time machine. “We’re able to make it more professional, more The Nevada State Museum is located inside national in terms of our presentation,” says MillSprings Preserve. Info: 486-5205 or www.museman. “Other cities have cultural institutions — Andrew Kiraly cause they have foundations and they’ve been



Hear More

Learn about a quirky museum outside Beatty on “KNPR’s State of Nevada” at d e s e r t c o m pa n i o n . c o m 11

“Vegas! The Show” sings and dances entertainment history on “KNPR’s State of Nevada” at www.desertcompanion/hearmore

N ews

continued from page 11

through a bunch of pages of wine list, the sommelier comes over and you say, ‘I’ll have bin 454’ because you can’t pronounce the name of the wine, and that’s the end of that,” says Incentient CEO Pat Martucci. “Our system allows patrons to search for wine by everything from varietal to country to tasting notes — and then they can narrow it down to find something truly to their liking.” The device is currently deployed in four Las Vegas restaurants, Andre’s (Monte Carlo), Alizé (Palms), Jaleo (Cosmopolitan) and CUT (Palazzo). SmartCellar’s entry into the Vegas market adds to the app’s presence in 14 countries. Does this mean sommeliers are getting corkscrewed by new tech? Not necessarily. Patrick Trundle, beverage director of Alizé and Andre’s, sees the glass as half full. “This is as useful a tool for the sommelier as it is for the guest,” Trundle says. “The wine list we had was a big, intimidating, 45-page book of pretty small type with a thousand different labels. On the other hand, SmartCellar is fun. It makes you want to play with it and engages everyone in choosing the wine.” And that play has serious impact. Martucci says some of his restaurant clients see up to a 25 percent boost in gross wine sales after introducing SmartCellar. The only thing missing? An app that dispenses samples. — A.K.



12 D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 1

Discretion advised Experts weigh in on the most neglected dining utensil: etiquette If only the Victorians could see us now. Not only do ladies no longer smile behind napkins, but before the meal is even over, people have checked in, Tweeted and reviewed the place on Yelp via their ever-handy smart phones. But that doesn’t mean dining etiquette is dead — just forgotten. Fortunately, local experts are more than happy to dish advice on how to enjoy yourself — without making a fool of yourself. How do I get my waiter’s attention? Garnering the attention of a busy server can be tricky. But Matt Dickerson, regional operations manager for Las Vegas and partner at Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill, says it’s not that hard. “Waiters know their sections and where the diners are at in their meal. So if you just look them directly in the eyes, smile and nod, that should be sufficient in getting assistance.” Can’t I just send this quick text message? No. Alain Alpe, general manager of Guy Savoy, strongly discourages using electronic devices at the table. “This is very rude. It is like when you go to the movies and they ask you to put it on silent. It is the same at the restaurant. It is more a question of respect. It could be a little bistro or a high-end place, either way it is not right.” How much alcohol is too much? “There are no appropriate number of drinks to order on a date, family dinner or business dinner,” says Florozeen Rand Gray, director at the Protocol Etiquette School Nevada. “But remember that you are being judged by those in your presence, and with our DUI laws at .08, I would suggest that you have no more than two glasses of wine, one before dinner and one with dinner. Save the nightcap for when you are safely at home.” My entrée is underdone. How do I send it back? Dickerson says don’t hesitate when it comes to sending a sub-par dish back to the kitchen. “If they want to send something back because it’s not to their liking, don’t feel bad about it, ever. The worst thing they can do is wait until the end of the meal and then complain about what they had. What they need to do is send it back right away so that we can fix it right away. Send it back in the beginning, not toward the end (of the meal).” Who’s paying? Alpe, Dickerson and Gray agree that whoever initiated the meal should settle the bill. Gray warns, “Never make the mistake of taking a business client out to dinner and the wait staff presents him/her with the bill. You might as well go to your computer address book and scroll, select and delete that client’s name — because you just lost a client.” — Alexia Gyorody

GIVE THE GIFT OF THE RTS Academy of St. Martin in the Fields with Joshua Bell

Savion Glover

Yo-Yo Ma & Kathryn Stott with The Assad Brothers

Lily Tomlin

MOMIX - Botanica

The Cleveland Orchestra

David Sedaris

Béla Fleck & The Flecktones

Straight No Chaser

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

The Pink Floyd Experience

Imagination Movers



The Canadian Tenors

Paco de Lucía

Now you can share all the grandeur and wonder of The Smith Center’s very first season with your friends and family. With a holiday gift certificate, you’ll be giving them an experience like no other — a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see this new Heart of the Arts from the very beginning. There are 26 must-see shows to choose from this season, many starting at only $24. Visit or call 702.982.7805 to purchase your holiday gift certificate in any denomination you wish. Debuting, March 2012



Buddy Guy with Quinn Sullivan

Michael Feinstein The Sinatra Project


Reynaldo Robledo loves food as much as ever — now just in moderation.

“Now, every once in a while, I’ll have a quesadilla.” Imagine being told you could no longer eat your mother’s cooking. That’s what it was like for Reynaldo Robledo when his personal trainer told him he had to swear off Roberto’s Taco Shop. An edict served with a side of irony: It happens to be the Mexican restaurant chain his parents started in San Diego in 1964. The trainer, Real Results Fitness owner Paul Rosenberg, had good reason to bar Robledo. His 46-year-old client was obese and on eight different medications for diabetes, high cholesterol and coronary artery disease — thanks largely to the lard in Roberto’s rich, traditional dishes. Having worked in the family business since age 12, Robledo grew up eating Roberto’s. Now owner of the franchise, he’s in at least one of the 43 Southern Nevada locations every day. Robledo knew he would never give it up. Turns out, he didn’t have to; his biggest problem was portion control. “I would sit down to a meal and eat a dozen tortillas,” he recalls. “I’d eat a loaf of bread in two days. I’d order a large pizza and 2-liter bottle of Coke and finish it by myself.” Robledo made huge strides simply by eating less, and replacing some fattening dishes with fruit and leaner meats. And then there are the strides on the treadmill. Early on, Rosenberg realized he was dealing with someone who needed extra motivation. “Rey had never exercised before,” the trainer says. “We did cardiovascular work where I would stand by him on the treadmill the whole time, just so I could get him accustomed to it.” Now, Robledo spends 12 solitary hours on the treadmill per week. It’s paid off. He’s shrunk from 343 to 212 pounds. He’s gone from 49.3 percent body fat to 19.5 percent. “I love the fact that I went from a size 48 pants to a 36,” Robledo says. But the real accomplishment is inside. He’s now off all medications, disease-free. His blood-sugar level has dropped from the 700s to the 70s — a rare feat, according to Joyce Molaskovitz, director of health and wellness services at Desert Springs Hospital. “Diabetes is a chronic illness,” she says. “If you don’t take care of it, you can’t get better.” Unlike those with type 1 diabetes (whose bodies don’t make insulin), people with type 2 have some choice in the matter. Don’t get him wrong. Robledo’s still a loyal Roberto’s customer. “I still eat at Roberto’s — I like to eat there. I cut down on lard, maybe 95 percent of it. I don’t eat fried tacos anymore. I don’t eat refried beans.” He’s just a more conscious customer. “Now, every once in a while, I’ll have a quesadilla ... I really love chicken. I have chicken every single day now.” — Heidi Kyser 14 D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 1

Portrait By Christopher smith


THE ARTS Las Vegas is known for its diverse entertainment options, but did you know Las Vegas also has a growing Arts community? The Caesars Foundation supports many of these performing arts programs including the Nevada Ballet 速

Theatre, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts and the LasVegas Philharmonic. The will to do wonders速

These organizations depend on support like ours to maintain programs that benefit and strengthen our community. Find out how you can help by visiting, and

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N e w a n d n o t a bl e

Getting baked

Batteries not required: The low-tech, high-fun world of Kettlemuck’s


Walls 360 makes art for walls, but the designs are anything but flat.

O f f t h e Sh e l f

Playtime, unplugged Most toy stores are stressful, ironically enough: multiple electronic gadgets whizzing near the door, lighting so bright it feels positively confessional, and a sales staff as uninterested in helping as the atmosphere is uninviting. Kettlemuck’s in Henderson is noticeably different. Upon entering, you’re greeted by jungle sounds, like falling water and chirping birds, which have the effect of soothing even the most harried soul. The lights are normal. The atmosphere, serene. It all feels very The Nature Company circa 1994, or like a low-key F.A.O. Schwartz. I even found myself using my very best “inside voice” when talking to owner David Stefaniak, possibly the nicest toy store proprietor I’ve ever met. With his wife, Carolyn, and the help of their three children, Colette, 14, Olivia, 12, and Noah, 10, the Stefaniaks opened Kettlemuck’s a year ago with this mantra: “Imagination only is required to power any of our toys.” In other words, none of the toys is battery-operated, so customers are left to create their own scenarios, solve their own puzzles, and dream, well, T H E B ROWSER

Mix-and-match makeup

the impossible dream in this increasingly electronic world: playtime built entirely around creativity, not pre-determined constructs, licensed products or screen time. Because the business is family-owned, the Stefaniaks are personally invested in everything they sell. In fact, nothing hits the sales floor before it’s been tested by the family at home. (Tough job.) Kettlemuck’s — so named for a weird elf who lives along the wall of a giant sand box in the center of the store — carries puzzles by niche brands, play sets made from recycled materials, fair-trade homemade instruments from around the globe, lifelike stuffed toys, and Schleich’s legendary collectable figurines, manufactured in Germany since the 1950s. Five dollars gets your child entry into The Great White Sand Dunes (actually filled with 4,000 pounds of beads made from recycled milk jugs), a small bag, and the chance to dig for toys. Whatever fits in the bag is theirs to keep. (I so wanted to dig.) (Kettlemuck’s Toy Shoppe , 10895 Eastern Avenue #120, 776-8349, — Gigi Generaux

In the 2000s, M.A.C. from Canada was the postmodern makeup to own for those divas desirous of magenta eye shadow, taupe lipstick, and the kind of glitter liner that says “Ashanti trendy” not “Hannah Montana tacky.” In this decade, that brand is Inglot, a European company which offers high-impact pigments ranging from innocent pink to shocking

chartreuse, with names so minimalist that they’re numbers. M.A.C. revolutionized the makeup industry by offering mix-and-match palettes for eye shadow in the late 2000s. Inglot took that concept a step further by offering mix-andmatch palettes for everything, from blush, to lipstick, to concealer. Called “The Freedom System,” the name sounds like yellow press

There’s nothing like getting into the holiday spirits — giving, receiving and drinking them. But what about livening up the nosh served with your favorite varietal? Enter CookieZen, which sent us sweet and savory rounds for wine pairing. Could they do better than tiny hot dogs on sticks? These gourmet bakers are savvy party people. The all-natural recipes use kosher salt and less sugar, and the cookies gained delicious depth when flavorful ingredients were emphasized over sweetness. The espresso chocolate peanut butter cookie — enjoyed with bold reds, of course — was rich, but not overly so. The sea salt chocolate oatmeal and apricot sage were great companions to crisp whites. Not a wrong combo in the box. (Cookies & Corks. $7.95 for large box, $3 small; Tuto in Bellagio; Elements in Aria; www. — Maureen Adamo

propaganda, but actually means the convenience of being able to carry your entire, custom-designed maquillage ensemble with you at all times — very handy for late evenings out or travel abroad. That, plus the line’s knockout array of faux eyelashes, in everything from spikes to fans to feathers. So go glut on your Inglot and call us when you’re done. — G.G.

Inglot At The Forum Shops at Caesars, Town Square and inside Macy’s at Fashion Show Mall, 16 D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 1

PHOTOGRAPHY BY Christopher Smith

At The Forum Shops at Caesars, Town Square and inside M



Dance dance revolution: Pure Barre practicioners make a move.

Lean, mean and pretty


The latest fitness trend Pure Barre goes for graceful strength, not frenzied weight loss by kimberly schaefer

Many of us have tried so many workouts that we aren’t fatigued just from the workouts — we’re exhausted by the workout options. We’ve tried to Zumba, spin, kickbox and Jazzercise our way to better health. We’ve sweated it out in Bikram yoga, tightened our cores in Pilates. What’s next? Ballet? Actually, yes. The latest fitness phenomenon to hit Las Vegas is Pure Barre, a technique that combines elements of ballet, Pilates and weight training. The method claims that it can help you to achieve the coveted dancer’s body — a sleek, slender silhouette. No worries about

18 D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 1

bulky muscles as a result of this workout. Instead, the 55-minute sessions at Pure Barre are designed to sculpt lean thighs, toned arms and firm, flat abs. Created 10 years ago by dancer and choreographer Carrie Rezabek Dorr, Pure Barre opened in Summerlin over a year ago and offers classes seven days a week. Owner of the local studio Lauren O’Nan moved here to open the first Pure Barre location in Las Vegas. “I got into Pure Barre through a friend. I thought, ‘I love this technique. I love what it’s doing for my body. I love being with women,’”

she says. Her experience led her to venture west to what she describes as “an untapped market” to open her own business. Don’t know a pirouette from a pas de deux? Doesn’t matter. Pure Barre, despite incorporating balletic elements, aims to be accessible to non-dancers and exercise newbies alike. “The best thing about Pure Barre is that you’re working at your own level,” says O’Nan. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been working out for the past five years or if you haven’t worked out in five years. It’s set up to be a personalized workout in a group setting.”

PHOTOGRAPHY BY Christopher Smith



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Tiny dancer moves

Three Pure Barre-style exercises you can try — without installing a barre in your living room Parallel This exercise is designed to lengthen and tighten the front of your thighs. Here you can substitute a sturdy kitchen chair for the barre. Stand facing the back of the chair with feet and knees together. Squeeze your inner thighs together as tightly as possible and raise your heels off the floor. You’ll be on the balls of your feet. Lower your seat and create a soft bend in your knees. Squeeze your muscles (thighs and seat) for 30 seconds. Pulse up and down for 30 seconds. Keep in mind that the movements should be very small — up one inch, down one inch. Repeat 3 times. If you can.

Pretzel This “muffin-top blaster” targets the side of your seat, hips and love handles. Sit on the floor with your right knee bent directly in front of your right hip and your lower leg pointing out at a right angle. Bend your left knee behind your left hip, and keep both legs resting on the floor. Place both hands on your right thigh and keep your torso facing forward. This step will be imperceptible to anyone but you: Squeeze your left hip and glute for 30 seconds. You’ll feel this up through your hip and into your left side. If you can, lift your left ankle off the floor and pulse for an additional 30 seconds. Repeat on your right side and envision yourself shimmying into your skinny jeans.

Curl The curl flattens your abdominal muscles, everyone’s favorite body part. Lie down on the floor (this is the easy part). Raise your legs off the floor and point your feet toward the ceiling. Squeeze your legs together as tightly as you can. Place your hands behind your head and raise your head, neck and shoulders off the floor. Squeeze your abdominal muscles—imagine your navel sinking through your back. Pulse your abdominal muscles for 30 seconds. Your lower body should contract toward your head. Your legs will move slightly, but the movement should not come from your leg muscles; the movement should be created by the tightening of your lower abs. Follow this by pulsing your upper body and lower body at the same time for 30 more seconds. Focus the work in your core muscles; don’t pull with your arms or legs. Imagine yourself curling like a leaf. If you’re up for an “advanced” variation, follow up by straightening your arms — your hands should be on the outside of your thighs. Pulse for 15 seconds. — K.S.

20 D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 1

Barred for life Nevertheless, don’t expect an easy first foray. It is a challenging regimen designed to target the problem areas that plague most women: hips, thighs, butt and abdomen. You’ll be holding onto that barre for dear life as you attempt to squeeze tiny muscles you never knew you had. Small classes allow instructors to interact with students individually. After demonstrating the exercise, teachers circulate through the studio, offering hands-on corrections to ensure students are employing proper form and exercising the right muscles. “It’s very similar to a Pilates-type class, but it’s faster and more upbeat,” says O’Nan. And the music that fills the room during classes isn’t what you might expect in a ballet studio. There’s no pianist in the corner tickling away at some Tchaikovsky. Instead, up-tempo tunes pump from an iPod to keep people on their toes and motivated to keep moving. Expect a routine that targets very specific muscle groups along with heart-pumping, calorie-burning cardio. Don’t expect a bouncing, gyrating Jane Fonda aerobics class, but do expect to feel that oft-discussed “burn.” Each class follows a similar format, including a warm up, stretching, thigh exercises, seat exercises, core exercises and a cool-down, but exercises change from class to class to avoid the development of dreaded “muscle memory.” And the instructors’ resumés certainly don’t hurt. One performs in Le Rêve and one with Nevada Ballet Theatre; other instructors boast strong fitness backgrounds. Because of the intensity of the Pure Barre method, achieving quick results is actually a realistic expectation. The program also offers a special program for recent mothers, aptly named The Baby Bounce Back. O’Nan says one new mom lost a total of six inches and 30 pounds in three months. With regular attendance (three to four classes per week), most people start to see results after the first 10 classes. Student Patricia Ochal began taking classes in June. “When I turned 40, I put on 10 pounds. I tried everything — nothing was working. I started to come here, and I try to average 6 days a week,” Ochal says. In just less than a month, Ochal says she lost 10 pounds without making any other alteration to her routine or diet. She says, “My clothes fit loosely now, and I feel muscle all over. I feel strong. I feel great.” For more information, visit

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Remembrance of wars past


H. Lee Barnes’ Vietnam war memoir captures the heightened reality of combat by david mckee

Maybe it’s the former deputy sheriff in him, but College of Southern Nevada professor of English H. Lee Barnes regards an interviewer with the basilisk gaze of a cop who’s just pulled you over for speeding. Despite being 45 years removed from his tour of duty in Vietnam, Barnes still looks the part of the lean, rugged Green Beret he once was. Without really knowing why, he tried out for the elite unit, made the cut and first saw action during the Dominican Republic’s 1965 civil war, including some clandestine, CIArun sabotage. Unsatisfied by that tropical “police action” and by stateside military routine, Barnes volunteered for duty in Vietnam, arriving there in early 1966. Assigned to Tra Bong, a forward position near the Laotian border, Barnes’ first mission could easily have been his last. Geared up for a reconnaissance, Barnes was told to stand down; the senior medic would go instead. Four Americans and most of their 70-man Vietnamese cohort would soon afterward be massacred in what became known as the Lost Patrol. The mystery of the Lost Patrol’s fate haunts the tour of duty chronicled in Barnes’ new memoir, “When We Walked above the Clouds” (University of Nebraska Press, $29.95). The author has written of Vietnam before in the fiction anthology “Gunning for Ho” (2000). Until now, he’s balked at putting his actual experiences on paper. The urging of his comrades in arms and the ravages of time finally spurred Barnes to action. “The final reason I decided to write it was Pablo, one of my teammates, developed liver cancer. It was the idea of their mortality as much as anything” that impelled him, Barnes explains. “When they end, the story itself ends.” But he’s glad he waited. Passing time gave him the perspective necessary to shape his experiences into a narrative. “The most important event in the whole story occurs early on in my experience in ’Nam. Everything after (the Lost Patrol) seems almost anticlimactic. Therefore I had to come up with a range of events that were compelling enough to keep people on the page and still tell the story as truthfully as possible.”

22 D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 1

H. Lee Barnes

Years of writing police reports prepared him for “creating scenes, as opposed to telling” readers his experiences. This feat was accomplished primarily from memory. “If you’ve ever been in combat, you remember an awful lot. It doesn’t go away,” he explains. “I could have said, ‘This is what happened,’ but it was better to put myself next to Norwood on the

day Jacobson’s body came in” from the Lost Patrol. “When you’re a cop, it’s all about telling and not showing … concrete detail is important because you’re going to get cross-examined about something.” There’s nothing like a recon patrol to sharpen the senses, it seems. “You’re reduced to perhaps the same kind of human being man

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was long before we became civilized,” Barnes says. “You revert to intuitive patterns that people probably followed in order to survive when they were surrounded by a very hostile world. I imagine that, despite all the technology that soldiers have available to them today, they still have to revert to that” heightened state of consciousness. “I tried to make every chapter as self-contained as possible,” he continues, “so that each seemed more like a short story or had resolution about that particular moment, but didn’t resolve the larger pictures along the way.” But even the enigma of the Lost Patrol can’t overshadow a grim life-or-death choice Barnes makes on his final mission. Subconsciously, he had been preparing for Green Beret duty through much of his miserable, nomadic childhood and adolescence. “We moved around an awful lot and I loved nothing more than getting away from people and deep into nature. The two times I ran away from home, I headed straight for the mountains with a bedroll,” he recalls. “So when I was with my combat-recon platoon in the mountains of Vietnam, I actually felt more comfortable than I did in the camp, where we were surrounded by barbed wire and had bunkers, machine-gun emplacements and mortar pits.” Despite subsequent careers as a lawman, private detective, narcotics agent and casino dealer, “the only thing that is fully real in my life is Vietnam, because it was moment to moment. The experience you have when you’re out with 12 Montagnards (an indigenous people of Vietnam) and another American, and there are no Vietcong around — or there may be a regiment around the next corner — makes you aware of your breath without being aware of it. You know that you’re alive in a very special way.” Compared to that, “what I do now is fiction. There’s a lot of pretense in life. Well, you can’t pretend in a place like Vietnam, in a combat situation.” Being in combat, seeing death and grotesque mutilation, taught Barnes to quickly numb all emotions except anger and then channel his rage into survival. But he entertained no Rambo-like revenge fantasies. “To this day, I’m no longer angry at the enemy that we faced. I probably have more in common with the enemy than sitting here with you, despite the fact that we share being writers and live in the same city, because (the enemy and I) have a common experience as soldiers in Vietnam during a time of crisis. They were answering that master, Duty. It’s a cruel, hard master.”

An excerpt from H. Lee Barnes’ “When We Walked Above the Clouds” I was selected. I don’t know who made the decision, the captain or Brownie. No matter, someone decided I needed a little crosstraining in first aid, and not just first aid, but treating the ill. And Norwood was picked to train me to help on sick call. We stood under the canopy of an open tent. As a line of malingerers waited in the sun, he showed me first how to start a drip line, which he said I wouldn’t be doing that day, but should know how to do nonetheless. He picked up a syringe from a tray and demonstrated injecting sterile water through the rubber diaphragm into a bottle of powder. He shook the mixture and drew it out with the same syringe. I took a turn at it, aspirated properly, flicked the syringe, and pressed the air out with the plunger as he had. He seemed satisfied. He told me to pay attention to where he wiped the alcohol swab and warned me about the sciatic nerve. I watched as he gave the first man in line a shot in the buttocks. For what, I didn’t know. The next sick man was mine. He stepped up. Norwood watched, as step by step, I administered the shot. Perfect. He didn’t feel a thing. I withdrew the needle and wiped the injection site with a swab. Norwood seemed proud, perhaps of my small accomplishment, but more likely of his success at teaching someone as thickheaded as I was. One at a time, Norwood examined them, listened to ailments rendered through the interpreter. I stood by, a syringe at the ready. Between the two of us, we treated three more patients and gave two shots. I gained con-

fidence. Bring ’em on, I thought, your tired, your weary, your sick. Dr. Barnes at your service, the best medical help in all of ’Nam a step away. What’s troubling you? Too much boom boom? A little gonorrhea? Yes, we have a quick fix for that. Next patient please. Don’t be shy. We’re all professionals here. Top-grade. Norwood sent the next striker my way with instructions to give him antibiotics for his clap. I prepped as instructed. The man dropped his trousers. “Too much fucky?” I smiled. I swabbed the injection site and jabbed him in the buttocks. Bull’s-eye, a perfect hit. But then his eyes promptly rolled up in their sockets, and he tilted forward, passed out. As he and I lifted the patient to a stretcher, Norwood, a bit testy, reminded me about the sciatic nerve. I shrugged. It wasn’t as if we’d get sued for malpractice. The sound of mortars exploding boomed up the valley, accompanied by machine gun and small arms fire. In the dull middle ground between sleep and consciousness, I heard the sounds. Then blaked Whitten shouted into the bunker for me to man my post. Since arriving I had rehearsed the drill in my mind over and over. I swung my feet onto the floor and slipped on my boots and buttoned my fatigue shirt, then grabbed my M-16, and entered the trench. It was raining and I’d forgotten my poncho and steel pot. I went back for them. Jacobsen, in T-shirt and trousers, was setting the bipod on the mortar. An outgoing mortar round exploded near the river. Strikers throughout the camp fired their weapons, scoring the sky with tracers. Unperturbed by the weather and other events, Jake said was going to instill some fire discipline in them. Then he said, “Let’s put a little light on the subject.” Unhurried, the captain, occupied in thought, walked past the pit without speaking. I grabbed an illumination round out of the magazine. He cut increments by guess and set the delay. I pulled out another round and waited. He said one was hanging and dropped it in the tube. Seconds later a blazing light burned a hole in the black sky. I handed him the next round and climbed atop the parapet to see the flare hanging over the swollen river, too far out. I told him and he adjusted the angle. I glanced the east at the PF outpost at the very instant a mortar round exploded inside the post. Fox slogged by and shouted for us not to

waste any flares. JV followed him. I hopped back into the pit. With nothing for us to do but wait, Jake started shivering. He said he’d be right back. A few minutes passed before he returned wearing a poncho and stood above on the parapet. I climbed up beside him. Though a deadly ordeal at the other end, as seen through the misty night sky the battle was vague and dreamlike. Tracers from small-arms and automatic fire crisscrossed the sky. Trip flares lit up the perimeter as sappers probed the defenses to see how much fight the defenders had in them. Mortar rounds exploded inside the defenses, first the flash, then a delayed bang, like the sound and image out of sync on a movie screen. By then sappers had penetrated the outer wire. A flare flashed, then another. A recoilless rifle barked its unmistakable sound. On his hurried way to the team house Cam slowed long enough to say we would get no air support. The whole of I-Corps was boxed in. Something too obvious to be said. Then the far hillside went black and silent. Norwood shook his head and walked away. Jake and I returned to the pit and hunkered down while inside the team house the captain, Lt. Quang, Lt. Bussy, Fox and JV were deciding how our team and the Vietnamese would react. Over the next hour the gruesome aftermath was telegraphed up the valley, executions announced a single shot at a time, followed by a pause, then a shot, and so on, leaders first, then others who didn’t accept the chance to convert. Join or die, the politics of a gun to the head. Mr. Whitten called out that he was coming into the pit. “Bloody wet,” he said. “The cheek of these Viet Cong.” He lit a cigarette, concealed it under his poncho, and blew smoke skyward. “Shame this happened the day of the captain’s party.” He took another drag off his cigarette. “I’m relievin’ you, Barnes. Your good captain wants you to be ready for the morning.” Past midnight, now the day after Tet, I scrabbled about in the dark. Down the valley they’d killed unarmed men, their reason — because they could. It was a piece of Vietnam to take to bed and think about. I shed my poncho, hung my .45 in its holster on the frame of the mosquito net, then dried my rifle, slipped out of my boots and flopped down for a brief restless rest.

d e s e r t c o m pa n i o n . c o m 25

community From left to right: The Trinity Life Center is deceptively plain; the “pay it forward” wall at the center; Pastors Randy Greer and Vic Caruso

Good in the neighborhood What does the City Impact Center do? What doesn’t it do? Meet the scrappy cluster of do-gooders that make up the emerging new model for social service

T by t.r. witcher

The Trinity Life Center church is one of the oldest churches in Las Vegas. It traces its roots back to Tenth Street downtown, and it has been in its current home, on St. Louis Avenue, a few blocks west of Maryland Parkway, since the 1960s. For years, this area was the heart of the city. Commercial Center opened in 1960. The swanky Las Vegas Country Club opened in 1967. The midcentury ranch homes nearby

26 D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 1

represented fine contemporary living. It was a much smaller city then; fewer than 300,000 people lived in the entire county. “Mayors and everybody lived around here,” says Pastor Vic Caruso, who grew up in the area. “It wasn’t the inner city, it was the city.” Trinity, the largest Assembly of God church in town, was mainly an “old-money, white church,” says Caruso. The church ran a successful trio of schools that provided K-12 edu-

cation. And for a few decades, the church enjoyed its prosperity. But Las Vegas was changing. By the ’80s and ’90s, those affluent central city residents were decamping for the suburbs. By the time lead Pastor Randy Greer came to Trinity in 1990, from Los Angeles, the neighborhood was beginning a long-term demographic shift. As early as 1992, Greer was pushing to make the church more ethnically diverse. (The church is now home to a variety of ethnic congregations that share space, including Spanish, Congolese, Filipino, Indonesian and Bulgarian.) By 1997, he had a vision that Trinity was going to radically remake itself, to start reaching out to a community that was no longer wealthy and no longer only white. He just didn’t know what that change was going to look like. It took almost 10 years for Greer’s vision to manifest itself in the creation of the City Impact Center, a large — and growing — collection of social service programs the church runs from the five-acre campus of land it owns between St. Louis and Sahara avenues. The center opened just as the recession was getting its teeth into Las Vegas, and it has served thousands of people since. It almost didn’t happen. There was a moment, 10 years ago or so, when it looked like the change Greer imagined might be to simply follow Trinity’s departing churchgoers out to the ’burbs. “If we’re going to keep doing business the way we do, we have to be in the suburbs,”

PHOTOGRAPHY By Christopher Smith

Greer says, recalling the church’s thinking a decade ago. In 2000, the church bid to purchase a closing school in the northwest valley. After losing to another bidder, the board, under Greer’s leadership, made a momentous decision. The grass wasn’t greener in Summerlin, they decided. Trinity was going to stay put in the neighborhood it had grown up in. “We felt that’s what we were supposed to do. We weren’t going to be doing business as usual.” The financial stakes of that decision were big. “The real estate was so valuable,” Caruso adds. “We could have cashed out for a lot of money and left. But we decided to stay where we were. ... If somebody doesn’t stay here, what happens to the people? What happens to the neighborhood?” The neighborhood is starting to find out. Today, the center is a bustling matrix of service groups, nonprofits and charities that do everything from feed the poor to immunize kids. The church that had once considered splitting for the ’burbs has instead become a nucleus for public service, one whose message of selflessness resonates with — and inspires — the center’s numerous tenants.

One of City Impact Center’s providers is a medical clinic called Operation H.O.P.E. Its founder, physician Elliot Shin, provides medical services for free — but asks that patients pay forward their care by doing good deeds in the community. “When I heard the church history, I knew this was the right church to work with,” says Shin. “I was looking for a church that practiced what it preached. We would not be able to do what we do without their support and generosity. When I met with Pastor Vic, he just immediately embraced us.” The small clinic doesn’t even have a phone, but its wall is lined with handwritten letters of patients who have paid it forward. The stories range from people saving stray cats to running errands for the sick and elderly to feeding the homeless in the park. Shin says his clinic has provided $120,000 worth of service. “If our patients really did what we ask in the community, it’s three times that amount.”

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hood. But it has seen better days. Commercial Center, arguably, no longer deserves the name, and plenty of rough-looking apartment buildings line the small streets between Paradise Road and Commercial Center. Over the last decade, the church continued to thrive, but its congregation has dwindled; the church eventually closed its high school and middle school and at the same time launched the City Impact Center. Caruso became its point man. A genial Italian-American who looks like he just came from a warm beach somewhere, Caruso knew the neighborhood well. Before he went into the ministry in the mid-’80s, he spent years as a cook at the Sahara and a bellman at the Flamingo. Trinity is the only church he’s known. He leads me on a tour of the center, spread out over several nondescript buildings between St. Louis and Sahara. The church owns a 12-unit apartment building for low-income seniors. Across the street, in a drab one-story store front, the center also operates a health clinic for kids, which provides checkups and immunizations for kids up to age 18, including undocumented children. The clinic saw 8,000 kids last year. Next door to the clinic, there is the Calvary Downtown Outreach Program, a food pantry open Wednesdays and Thursdays that serves some 100 families a week. (It only provides food for people who live in zip codes

close to the church.) Calvary also feeds the homeless on Saturdays, and the church ministers to them. In the same building as the food pantry — at the other end of a large first-floor open space — is Shin’s medical clinic. At the far end of the campus, directly facing Sahara, is the afterschool program. Housed in Trinity’s old twostory high school, the program was started by Greer’s daughter, Brandie Watson, who used to pick up neighborhood kids after school in a van and drive them to the center. The program is divided into two sections, for young kids and for teens and it serves more than 100 kids, providing a gymnasium, a pool, a weight room, along with movies, arts and crafts activities, afternoon meals and study space.

Do good — and do a lot of it Greer and Caruso thought they were going to help the needy, and they do, but it’s not just the homeless or poor. It’s also the guy who lost his job, lost the nice house, and has seen his savings and health insurance dry up. “The average family is two paychecks away from the curb,” says Caruso. “It looked like the worst time to ever do this. It was the best time to do it. The services are needed now more than ever.” With the exception of the after school program, the church didn’t so much start these

The center’s gym hosts a back-toschool program.

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programs as import them — finding space on its campus for other social service providers that had lost their old spaces in the recession. Faith-based service groups have always been the stopgap “when the government couldn’t or wouldn’t help,” says Ramona Denby-Brinson, a senior research scholar at UNLV’s Lincy Foundation. “Not so much because they have the deep pockets, but because of their compassion, and they have flexibility around eligibility.” In other words, less bureaucracy. But the City Impact Center is part of a movement that is likely to grow in the social services world — wherein formerly independent providers collaborate or team up to leverage their resources and make delivery of services easier for clients. In other words, instead of getting a check-up and picking up food from opposite ends of town, you can do both here. “It’s more humane for groups to work together,” Denby-Brinson says. “Partnerships will be the way we continue to go. It’s a better way to serve people.” The trend will also continue because funders want to see service providers of-

“It looked like the worst time to ever do this. It was the best time to do it. The services are needed now more than ever,” says Pastor Vic Caruso. fer longer-term success plans. “It’s not just quantity and quality, it’s durability,” says Tom Chase, CEO of Nevada Health Partners. “The dollars are certainly tighter.” There is an ad-hoc feeling to the center. You can drive by it and not have any idea that you were in any kind of coherent social aid center, the way you do when you visit, say, Catholic Charities’ campus north of downtown. Greer and Caruso are clearly still finding their way. But they’re doing so with giant hearts. So are their providers. Midweek at the Helping Kids Clinic, there’s an unexpected

lull in the clients coming in; the clinic has already seen 18 people today. In a 12-month span between 2010 and 2011, the clinic has seen 30,000 kids. One of them is 5-year-old Jhaimir Sims, who is in with his mother, Nashara, to pick up records for a recent vaccination shot he received at Helping Kids. Kids are usually vaccinated by the Southern Nevada Health District, but those shots can get expensive. Here, they’re free. “It’s a very positive experience,” says Nashara. “When I needed his shot I didn’t have $35 to pay for his shots.”




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The church commissioned the UNLV School of Architecture to write a report that may serve as the opening act of a redevelopment of the site. It’s working with the Nevada Community Foundation to raise funds. There’s room on the campus for new construction — possibly more senior housing or even retail — as well as an expansion of services the center already provides. Meanwhile, the center is launching computer training classes, thanks to donations from Rent A Center and Cox Communications. And Greer talks excitedly about the prospect of moving the homeless all the way to home ownership with a suite of services. Still, running the City Impact Center is expensive. It takes $20,000 a month. In the last few years, the church has laid off 11 employees, including four full-time pastors, to keep expenses down. The center is running largely on gifts and donations. (Caruso showed off a small construction job to install solar panels on top of a carport; funded with federal stimulus money, the church hopes the project puts a dent in electricity bills.) But there’s a philosophical crossroads ahead as well. Trinity is in the process of separating itself from the City Impact Center by creating a new board. The move should make it easier for the center to attract donors and supporters, but it has raised an interesting internal question about how heavily religion should be stressed at the center. Already, if you drive down Sahara, you’ll notice that “Trinity Life Center” has been scrubbed off the City Impact Center building. A consultant to the church recommended that Greer separate the church’s ministry work from its social service work, so as not to scare away potential donors or grantors. In other words, no preaching at the City Impact Center. The irony for a church that has done so much to change its image — that has refused to take the easy way out when it comes to servicing the community — is that now it is trying to hold onto its core identity. Though he hates the word “religion,” Greer doesn’t want the City Impact Center to lose its essence — a place where people can come to know Jesus. “We’ll help anyone who needs help,” he says. “But you can’t rip the heart out of what motivates us to do what we do.” Whatever form it takes in the future, the City Impact Center promises to continue to have plenty of just that — impact.


At your Service Catering At Your service Catering has been serving the Las vegas area with the best in culinary creations and high profile event planning and design since 1991. Our expertise allows us to handle events of all sizes, from simple to extravagant. Fully licensed for both food and liquor service, we are more than caterers we are full-service event planners. Dominic and Joseph De Patta 633 n. Decatur Blvd. Suite D las Vegas, nV 89107 (702) 870-1502

Baja California Restaurant & Cantina serving summerlin at Boca Park! new fall menu and hours! m- F 3pm to close, Weekends 12 to close. Best happy hour in town 7 days a week 3 to 6. BC incorporates the unique flavors of Baja California cuisine in a beach-like resort atmosphere. enjoy the fall evenings on our outdoor patio with bar or our “man Cave” cigar lounge. entertainment Friday & saturday nights. 1050 S. Rampart Blvd. (702) 463-5200

Ferraro’s italian Restaurant experience Ferraro’s - Italian dining at its best. Family-owned and operated for over 25 years, Ferraro’s is the perfect choice for holiday dining. Celebrate Christmas eve or Christmas day with your family from 1pm to 9pm, or bring in the new Year from 4pm to 2am. reservations required. Ferraro’s gift cards and gift baskets are perfect for holiday gift giving. 4480 Paradise Rd., las Vegas, nV (702) 364-5300

Dine in Style.

Sambalatte torrefazione


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sambalatte is the most exclusive and unique Caffè Lounge & espresso Bar offering Las vegas fresh roasted and sustainable coffee beans from around the globe. sambalatte offers healthy options while providing a hip and trendy place to sip, savor, and socialize.

Award-winning smashburger serves 100-percent Certified Angus Beef cooked-to-order smashburgers, as well as smashchicken sandwiches, smashdogs, smashsalads, Häagen-dazs shakes, and sides like veggie frites and rosemary and garlic-seasoned smashfries, daily from 10am-10pm.

750 S. Rampart Blvd. Ste. 9, las Vegas, nV (702) 272-2333

7541 W. lake Mead Blvd (702) 982-0009 9101 W. Sahara (702) 462-5500 5655 Centennial Center Blvd. (702) 462-5503 4725 S Maryland Pkwy (702) 385-0043

Featuring Chef Wes Kendricks’ contemporary American cuisine including safe harbor certified fresh fish, wild game, duck, lamb, angus beef, and comfort food classics. Conveniently located off the 215 near the Airport. dinner tuesday - saturday 5pm until closing (around 10pm) 600 east Warm Springs Road las Vegas, nV 89119 (702) 263-0034

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? E M I R C E H T E V L O S U O CAN Y INTERACTIVE ATTRACTION Open daily 9 am – 8 pm

Tickets and Information: 877.660.0660 Tickets $28 General Admission

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csitheexperiencelasvegas @csi_experience *$10 savings off General Admission only *10% off cannot be combined with other offers/discounts and CSI ticket purchases. Management reserves all rights.


For every dollar donated, Three Square can provide three meals. Southern Nevada has been hit especially hard by the economy. Let’s help make the season a little brighter for our neighbors in need. To make a donation please visit or call 702-644-3663.

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The signature baklava of our Pastry Chef of the Year features Black Mission figs and marscapone mousse. Read about the winner on page 39.


D e s e r t

c o m p a n i o n

15th annual


restaurant awards


e bet you’ve got quite an appetite right about now. After all, 2011 was a year of hard work, hunkering down, and holding on beneath thundercloud headlines about halting recovery and slow economic comeback. It was no less true in the valley’s restaurants. With scant splashy new arrivals on the dining scene — and some sad, surprising closures of some local mainstays — continued excellence under pressure was the dish du jour. That means our Restaurant Awards panel — made up of respected dining critics Max Jacobson, Al Mancini and Brock Radke — had a tough job. But that’s good news. It means that even in dark times, Las Vegas continues to be a nexus of culinary talent that gives our critics migraines when it comes time to have to decide who’s the best. Here are the fruits of their labor. Pull up a seat and dig in to our th 15 Annual Restaurant Awards.

photography by

Sabin Orr & Christopher Smith 35

Cocktail bar of the year

Vanguard Lounge

516 Fremont St. | 868-7800, The urban-artsy Vanguard Lounge emits a frequency that welcomes those looking for a laid-back experience that disguises how carefully curated it is — an experience that confuses plastic guitar drink-strapped tourists who’ve strayed across Las Vegas Boulevard. It is the one spot you cannot miss on what has become Vegas’ essential bar crawl — the Fremont East Entertainment District. There is something for every drinker on this block, but all the best cocktails are at Vanguard. The space is narrow and big city-ish, there’s loud music late at night and a mini-patio for observing the creeping humanity of downtown. There’s nothing pretentious about Vanguard but the drinks are all class, sips that change with seasons and never disappoint. Bar manager Nathan Greene has been around since the joint opened last fall, quietly perfecting sweet and savory concoctions that balance with a rounded selection of unique brews and boutique wines. This team does classics like Negronis and daiquiris as well as any spot in town, and twists up a few; for instance, Vanguard’s Aviation uses black tea-infused gin and subs a Chinese five spice citrus cordial for lemon juice. Try not to latch onto just one of the bar’s original creations, like the Broken Neck, a honey-lemon-white whiskey composition. Vanguard cocktails are good as gold, so evaluate the opportunity cost of choosing a favorite. — Brock Radke

Bartender of the year

Rebecca Ahnert Hayden While local mixologists have spent the past several years rediscovering “classic cocktails,” Rebecca Ahnert Hayden has marched to her own drummer — looking forward instead of back. Her bar at Fleur, where she’s designed many of the signature cocktails, is the only one in town to work with liquid nitrogen. (Bartenders use it to mix up deliciously creamy frozen drinks tableside in a cloud of sub-zero smoke.) And specialties, available frozen or traditionally, include the sparkling peach blossom, a blood orange margarita and the classic Fleurtini, made with Grey Goose, pomegranate, sour apple and prosecco. “Even though Hubert (Keller) is fine dining, you need to take


D e s e r t co m pa n i o n

into consideration that there are people who are in Las Vegas who don’t care about classic cocktails — they think they’re disgusting,” she explains. “So I try to keep things very approachable. And I like to do bright, fun colors.” In addition to mixing up great drinks, Ahnert Hayden is one of those classic bartenders who’s also a great conversationalist; perhaps that explains why she met her husband while she was behind the bar. She’s currently working on a book that pairs her favorite recipes with accompanying stories from a career spent pouring drinks. But she’s more than happy to share some of those tales for free with anyone sitting at her bar. And trust me, she’s got some good ones. — Al Mancini

P h oto g r a p h y : CHRISTOPHER SMITH

Fleur by Hubert Keller Inside Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S., | 632-9400,

Food Trend of the year

Small plates Small plate dining, an often multicultural extrapolation on the Spanish tapas trend, has rapidly eked out a home on the Strip, perhaps epitomized best in the refashioning of Hubert Keller’s brilliant Fleur de Lys dining room into just Fleur, an upbeat space with a globally inspired menu of delectable micro-munches. It seems like everyone’s gotten into the act of making a meal out of appetizers. José Andrés has two small plate emporiums at The Cosmopolitan, and even Wynn made room for La Cave, an intimate wine and nosh bar. The trend has been booming in our neighborhoods, too, crystallized when the original Vegas tapas joint, Firefly, opened its ragingly popular location in Summerlin. But slinging bacon-wrapped dates isn’t the only way to small plate success; worthy new ethnic eateries such as Nittaya’s (Thai), Forte (Eastern European) and Kyara (Japanese) are all riding the wave. — B.R.

Kyara's beef tataki, a small plate wonder

Personal Best Chefs and foodies pick their 2011 faves

Forte's adjarski khachapurri, a bread boat filled with egg and cheese

Jim Begley, dining critic for the Las Vegas Weekly, David magazine Most Thai restaurants in town serve Americanized fare with diluted flavors. Not the case with newly opened David Wong’s Pan Asian (2980 S. Durango Drive, 629-7464) where, for my money, they’re serving the valley’s best Thai food this side of Lotus of Siam. Just one bite of their pad see yew, a street food favorite, and you’ll understand. Typically, this wide noodle dish isn’t wok-fried for long enough, resulting in less caramelization and characteristic smokiness. Who wants less? With David Wong’s rendition, the noodles are the perfect combination of smoke and sweet — and thoroughly addictive.

Ethnic Restaurant of the year


4180 S. Rainbow Blvd. | 220-3876, Forte doesn’t serve just a single type of ethnic cuisine. Rather, it’s an amalgamation of some of the most unique types of cooking available in Las Vegas. The sign on the door calls it a European tapas restaurant — and certainly, there are plenty of traditional Spanish tapas on the menu. But Bulgarian-born Nina Manchev has also brought the recipes of her native country — as well as Russia, Georgia and Croatia — to the west side of town. In addition, she’s tapped her well-traveled father Stephan to oversee the kitchen, to assure they’re all prepared authentically. The atmosphere is eclectic and hip. Manchev is an artist, and her own works adorn the dark walls. An Eastern European music video channel is usually on TV. And the crowd is a mix of expatriates and Vegas foodies from all walks of life. (Some might argue the décor lost a touch of its charm when they replaced the original beat-up thrift store furniture with new tables. But hey, the new ones don’t wobble.) The menu is heavy on meats, sausages and dumplings. But many of the dishes are surprisingly light and delicate, defying the stereotype of Eastern European cooking. The food is best enjoyed family-style, at reasonable prices that allow large parties to sample a little bit of everything. There are several standout dishes, but no trip here is complete without adjarski khachapurri: a large bread boat filled with bubbling cheese and a fried egg. And while there are some great imported beers, don’t leave without sampling a few of the homemade flavored vodkas and brandies. — A.M. D e s e r tco m pa n i o n .co m


"Dealicious" meal of the year


monta 5030 Spring Mountain Road #6, 367-4600,

Monta's ramen with hand-pulled noodles and buttery roasted pork


D e s e r t co m pa n i o n

Personal Best Chefs and foodies pick their 2011 faves

Misti Yang, Yelp Las Vegas Senior Community Manager For me, it was the year of the banchan — the savory and spicy side dishes that are the chips and salsa of Korean cuisine. I obsessed over finding the best of these bottomless treats, dreaming of a bar where I could straddle a stool, order a tall, gingery cocktail and get a multicolored lineup. My refuge became Mr. Tofu (3889 Spring Mountain Road, 388-7733). I feel guilty for not knowing their names: crisp radish kimchi, slightly sweet peppers, soy saucesimmered cucumbers, lightly wilted spinach with peanuts. People say they’re better in L.A., but when they hit the table at Mr. Tofu, my heart beats a little faster. It’s like an ever-changing candy buffet.

SOMMELIE r of the year

John Burke

Prime inside Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S. | 693-8865, When you enter the stylish Prime Steakhouse by Jean-Georges Vongerichten at Bellagio, you might marvel at the way that brown and light blue blend together seamlessly in the room, or the Lichtenstein tapestry on the back wall in the private room. This is the domain of John Burke, sommelier here for 13 years. In fact, he’s been here since the place opened its doors to rave reviews back in 1998 — and it’s still going very strong, thanks in part to him. Burke built the wine list of this temple of great meat to match the foods served here — all simple, strong dishes and, of course, steak. His tenacity and dedication in creating this eclectic list was sparked by a simple desire: to sell some great bottles of wine to go on the tables. Indeed, Burke’s charisma and authority is such that he does not come to a table and leave without diners ordering at least a couple bottles. It’s no surprise, then, that Prime had the biggest wine program in any one single restaurant in the United States by 2001, generating more than $6 million in revenue just in wine. This made Burke the favorite sommelier of movie stars, sports celebrities and moguls alike. Early on, he would personally handle the wine service for Steve Wynn when on the premises. But he’s here for us, too. When you go to dinner at Prime, you ask for John Burke, because you know he always has something special for you. — Gil Lempert-Schwarz Gil Lempert-Schwarz is a wine consultant and wine journalist based in Las Vegas.

P h oto g r a p h y : CHRISTOPHER SMITH

The best soul food in Las Vegas is Japanese. I hope that’s not offensive or blasphemous. No disrespect to your favorite fried chicken joint. It’s just that “soulful” is the perfect descriptor for a bowl of noodles so simple yet so sophisticated, flavors so clean and precise, a dish simultaneously exotic and reassuringly homey. I never planned to attach such emotion to lunch, but I believe we are all in love with the ramen at Monta Japanese Noodle House. Take your seat at the bar in this tiny Chinatown treasure. You can choose from pork bone (tonkotsu), chicken-vegetable (shoyu) or miso broth as the perfect base for a mountainous portion of fresh, hand-pulled noodles and two slices of buttery chashu (roasted pork). Impossibly, it’s about $7. Splurge if you must, and drop a couple more bucks for toppings such as extra chashu, hard-boiled egg, sweet corn, tangy kimchi or wonderfully bitter mustard leaf. Simple ingredients for a simple soup, but it’s sublime eating, with so much soul. — B.R.

Megan Romano's signature baklava with savory pesto and a Concord grape sorbet

PASTRY Chef of the year

Megan Romano

Aureole Inside Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S., | 632-9400, In a restaurant known to tourists for gymnastic “wine angels,” beautiful swans and Charlie Palmer’s classic cuisine, Megan Romano has quietly earned a reputation among local foodies as one of America’s best pastry chefs. And while she’s worked faithfully for Palmer since Aureole opened in 1999, she’s also used that reputation to build a small empire that includes her own line of desserts and a cookbook, “It’s a Sweet Life.” In fact, she parted company with Aureole last month to continue building her empire — this time in the form of a new local pastry shop she plans to open in January. There, she's sure to maintain her commitment to treating dessert as an integrated and essential part of every meal. “I don’t want it to be such a break from the appetizer and entrée,” Romano explains. “There’s really no reason someone should say ‘No’ to dessert.” Aureole's offerings include classics such as crème brûlée, decadent bon-bons and luscious fruit dishes. Does Romano have a favorite? “I work with a lot of chocolate lately,” she says. “And I love that because it’s just a neat medium. It’s pretty intense. So we play around with a lot of layers of chocolate — with teas and citrus. But honestly, what I like to eat is clean, crisp, clear flavors that aren’t muddied.” Regardless of what style dessert you order, Romano says she’s always hoping for the same result. “My best compliment is ‘Yum!’ That’s what I want you to say.” — A.M. D e s e r tco m pa n i o n .co m


The Side Dish Awards

Honorable Mentions + Memorable Eats of 2011 Friendliest Mom & Pop Joint of the Year: Frank & Fina’s Cocina. It’s a testament to the warmth of Frank & Fina’s Cocina that when it closed its original, more central location on West Charleston Boulevard about three years ago to focus on its larger restaurant near the Beltway on Flamingo Road, regulars followed their favorite Mexican cuisine into the tony ’burbs. But it makes sense: Once you find your favorite taquitos and rellenos in a comfortable environment with kind, quick service, it’s hard to give it up. Aside from the overwhelming deliciousness — particularly the fresh, robust salsa served as soon as you take your seat — there’s something lighter and easier about eating at Frank & Fina’s (4175 S. Grand Canyon Drive #100, 579-3017). It feels like a more healthful version of a family meal in your abuela’s kitchen. Feels-Like-You’re-Practically-In-The-

Soyo's spicy chicken wings

Actual-Country, Mind-Bogglingly Authentic Restaurant of the Year: HK Star. Authenticity is a tricky term when it comes to food because “authentic”

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Tofu soup

SURPRISE of the year


Korean Barstaurant 7775 S. Rainbow Blvd. #105 | 897-7696 Korean food hasn’t quite spread to Vegas from the Left Coast in the same way that Chinese food has, although we do have a Korean food court at the Greenland Market and occasional flashes of brilliance at places such as Honey Pig. However, Soyo, which bills itself as a “barstaurant,” stands up to any good eatery in L.A.’s sprawling Koreatown, which is why it has to be considered such a major surprise. The décor features muted colors and booths carved cannily into the walls. Cooking is done in the kitchen, not at table, and many of these dishes are designed to make you drink. Kim’chi pancake, a thin crêpe with a persistent crunch, and mandu, that’s fried dumplings to us, both offer any dedicated barfly an excuse to drink. Other dishes not to miss are soon du bu, soft, silky tofu, a suspension with the texture of crème brûlée, and some of the best fried chicken in the city, laced with hot spices. — Max Jacobson

P h oto g r a p h y : S a b i n ORR

doesn’t automatically equal “good.” But if someone suggests a great Chinese joint, and if you have communication issues while attempting to order, and if some of the dishes are a little scary, then you’ve probably found what you’re looking for. Our best Chinese joint that fits the bill is HK Star (3400 S. Jones Blvd. # 15, 220-3388), where big groups and families feast on salt and pepper pork chops, whole fried or steamed fish, oyster pancakes, pan fried noodles, and lots of other wondrous dishes that may or may not be on the huge menu. Service might be a challenge, as will some of the more exotic eats, but if you’re reading this, you’re ready to experiment. This is the place. Hall of Fame Hanging In There Restaurant of the Year: Aureole. Fine dining is dead … are you sure? Times keep on changing and the recession may have lead to the Strip’s first Buca di Beppo, but luxury will always be part of the Vegas restaurant experience. Aureole, Charlie Palmer’s decadent destination at Mandalay Bay, turned 12 years old this year, and if you haven’t been (or haven’t been back lately), you’re still missing out on a grand experience. Chef Vincent Pouessel is still calling the shots in the palatial kitchen. Sommelier William Sherer is still blowing minds, and the wine tower angels are still flying up and down for the bottle of your choice. Just like the contents of that bottle, Aureole is only getting better with age, and you don’t need to wait for a special occasion to celebrate that. Vegas is Way Better than New York Restaurant Experience of the Year: Rao’s. The reason why Vegas equals awesome is the same reason why locals rarely visit the Strip: convenience. What if you could somehow gain access to the most inaccessible, legendarily busy restaurant of all time, with a single phone call? Wouldn’t that be amazing? It is. Thank you, Vegas (and Caesars Palace), for making the iconic Rao’s of Harlem available to us all — the classic Neapolitan food, the festive experience, the whole package. You don’t have to pretend you’re Derek Jeter to get a taste of the lemon chicken or seafood salad around here. Extra bonus: best meatballs of all time. The Dishes We Look Forward to Missing in 2012: Tie — Bradley Ogden and Wazuzu. Why look back and lament that we’ll never again enjoy barbecue shrimp and blue cheese coleslaw from the extinct Rosemary’s Restaurant when we can look ahead to the torment other departing tasty bites will bring? Consider this a heads-up: You have a very limited time to eat these, two of the best dishes I’ve ever sampled. Everybody talks about the burger at Bradley Ogden, but the bison filet (back on the block now that Ogden’s gone to a steakhouse menu) is one of the most flavorful, tender steaks ever noshed. This acclaimed Caesars Palace dining room will likely close in the first quarter of 2012, so get at it. Across the street at Encore’s Wazuzu, it remains to be seen if Vegas’ finest Panang curry will stay online now that chef Jet Tila is moving on. You can find me under the big crystal dragon hoarding this spicy Thai goodness while it lasts. The Best Use of French Fries of the Year: Julian Serrano. I expect to see “Best Use of French Fries” in a permanent capacity in next year’s Restaurant Awards, especially with so many restaurants experimenting with, let’s face it, nature’s perfect food. But until then, nothing rises above one of the top tapas at Julian Serrano’s eponymous Aria restaurant. Huevos Estrellados may be a simple, traditional Spanish dish, but there’s nothing typical about these flavors. These fries — thin, crispy and almost creamy inside — are topped with fried eggs with runny yolks and bits of spicy pork chorizo. This restaurant should be open for breakfast and serve this dish alone, that’s how good it is. — Brock Radke

A ppetizer of the year

Cheese plate

Vintner Grill 10100 W. Charleston Blvd. | 214-5590, Yes, we know the French prefer their cheese before, or in lieu of, dessert. But there are times when we Americans like to enjoy a cheese plate at the start of the meal — particularly if it’s paired with some nice cured meats (or as the French say, charcuterie). There’s no better place to do that than Vintner Grill. Chef Matt Silverman is a serious cheese connoisseur who recently took his cheese program to another level by making his own. Using milk from local suppliers, he ages it on premises in a special refrigerator. Given the small quantities he produces, supplies vary. But he recently had nine different house-made varieties on his menu. His chèvre (goat cheese) and his Roquefort are both surprisingly mild. The truffled ricotta is creamy and earthy. And an espresso-crusted goat cheese with a thin layer of cocoa powder is unlike anything you’ve ever had before. The best part: You can take home a wheel of your favorite. — A.M.

Dessert of the year

Bread pudding

Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse Inside the Golden Nugget, 129 E. Fremont St. | 386-8399,

Personal Best Chefs and foodies pick their 2011 faves

Signature dis h of the year

Kusshi oysters with tabasco sorbet Sage Inside Aria at CityCenter, 3730 Las Vegas Blvd. S. | 230-2742, Shawn McClain’s Sage is one of the true originals of the Strip, a bona fide American restaurant that serves dishes that reflect both the skill and the aesthetic of the chef. McClain’s cooking is confident and creative. Witness dishes such as his Wagyu beef tartare garnished with slow-poached egg, crushed caper aioli and crisp chocolate wafer, or a note-perfect Iberico pork loin with milk-braised cannellini, baby eggplant, and boutique Italian mortadella, and you’ll get the idea. But it is his Kusshi oysters with Tabasco sorbet — five delicate, buttery bites perfectly offset by the acidity in the sorbet — that we always come back to. These perfect little bivalves hail from the icy waters of British Columbia, and their sweet complexity is the perfect metaphor for the chef’s approach to cooking. — M.J.

Julie Hession, owner of Julie Anne’s All Natural Granola The smoky-sweet grilled shishito peppers with ponzu sauce appetizer at Simon Restaurant & Lounge (inside Palms Place, 944-3292) is the kind of dish that I start to think about in the middle of the day — and it stays on my mind until there is no question as to where I’ll be having dinner that night. I can easily eat an entire serving (probably two) on my own, but I’ll begrudgingly share a few bites with my husband, secretly hoping that he grabs one of the rare spicy peppers and leaves the rest for me.

Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse doesn’t get much ink because it’s downtown, but it has set a high standard that Oscar Goodman’s new steakhouse at the Plaza should strive for. It has a retro feel, courtesy of a stained glass skylight and ambercolored chandeliers shaped like giant starfish, not to mention a gallery of black and white snaps of old Vegas. Say, isn’t that Elvis standing toe to toe with Liberace? The crab cake here is killer, and the steaks are fine, too, but the real reason to come is for their brioche bread pudding, two warm, egg-rich slabs of pure heaven alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream, served in a pastry tuile. This bread pudding might not be the visual stunner that you’ll find at a place like L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, but it has a solid, down-home appeal, and is the best way to end a traditional meal here. — M.J.

d e s e r t c o m pa n i o n . c o m 41

Personal Best Chefs and foodies pick their 2011 faves

Chef John Witte, The Range Steakhouse at Harrah’s Las Vegas

Marché Bacchus

2620 Regatta Drive #106 | 804-8008, Once the city’s best kept suburban secret, Marché Bacchus is now a regular winner in this category, but this year is different. It would have been totally acceptable for owners Rhonda and Jeff Wyatt to rest on their restaurant’s reputation as a charming, tasty French bistro with an impeccable (and affordable) wine selection. But since they took the reins in 2007, the energetic couple has never stopped to rest, constantly renovating the food and remodeling the beloved lakeside experience. In 2011 they made big moves with perfect timing.

The great Alex Stratta was hired as consulting chef in May, and his protégé Joe Swan took charge in the kitchen. The result was a finely sharpened menu improving the dishes favored by regulars who storm the lake for dinner, brunch, or both in one weekend. Seared duck breast is moister. Steak is richer, frites are crispier. And there are more tables on that hotly requested patio. (More change: Swan moved to Ohio in October, so Stratta and Marché Bacchus rebounded by adding former Scarpetta and Alex chef David Middleton.) All this effort explains why, when Rosemary’s Restaurant closed in July — easily the most beloved off-Strip culinary casualty of the times — many Summerlin diners just penciled in Marché Bacchus as their favorite neighborhood joint. But lots of us were already there, sipping a glass of Bordeaux, enjoying a baguette and watching the geese float by. — B.R.

Some of best food I’ve had is at Thai BBQ (4180 S. Jones Blvd., 2220375). The restaurant is small, dimly lit and not remarkable by any standards. They do, however, make the best beef satays in all of Vegas. The correct proportion of traditional ingredients makes the perfect marinade, in conjunction with the char of an open flame grill — and even the presoaking of the bamboo skewers in water lend to the incredible flavors of this dish.

Excellence in Management an d Service

Michael Mina

Inside Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S. | 693-8255,

From left: General Manager Roberto Liendo, Executive Chef Ben Jenkins, General Manager Jorge Pagani

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If quality and consistency are the hallmarks of a great kitchen, then the front of the house is distinguished by attention to detail, teamwork and attitude. Nothing is more annoying than an indifferent welcome at the front podium of a restaurant, a felony compounded by a staff that has little or no knowledge of the menu. You won’t have these objections at Michael Mina, where veteran General Manager Jorge Pagani, who has been at the helm since the very beginning, has an expertly trained

group of servers, bus people and hostesses there to cater to any customer’s potential need. Team members such as Master Sommelier Joe Phillips and Brazilian server Marcio Silva have insider knowledge of the wine list and menu, respectively. Assistant GM Roberto Liendo, another Brazilian, who has also worked here from the very beginning, keeps a sharp eye on all the employees, making sure there isn’t an empty water or wine glass in the house, or an unsatisfied guest at check time. — M.J.

M a r c h é B a c c h u s : S a b i n ORR ; M i c h a e l M i n a , L o b s t e r a n d C h e f P u g i n : C h r i s to p h e r S m i t h

N eighborhood Restaurant of the year

Le Cirque's citrus-marinated New Zealand langoustines topped with osetra caviar and apple vodka gelée

CHEF of the year

Grégory Pugin Le Cirque Inside Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S. | 693-8100, Le Cirque Le Cirque is a culinary institution. For more than three decades in Manhattan and 13 years at Bellagio, the name has been synonymous with classic French dining. Chefs have come and gone, many of them superstars. Yet Le Cirque has always been a constant, refusing to follow fads or trends. But over the past year, Grégory Pugin has breathed new life into the restaurant, making it more relevant than it’s been in years while still respecting its unique place in culinary history. Trained in France under Chef Jean-Marie Gautier, Pugin went on to open eight restaurants for Chef of the Century Joel Robuchon. Later, at New York’s Veritas, he earned a Michelin star in 2009 and a Rising Star Chef of the Year nomination from the James Beard Foundation. Bellagio brought him to town in 2010, and charged him with making Le Cirque more approachable and contemporary. “Grégory was given carte blanche,” says Bellagio’s Director of Service Dominique Bertolone. What Pugin did with that freedom was institute two separate menus. Longtime fans of the restaurant can still order classics like escargot, Dover sole and the famed Rabbit Symphony. But the chef’s seasonal choices rely on familiar proteins prepared with a modern fine-dining flair – like his langoustine with caviar and apple-vodka gelee, and his oxtail bucatini. “They are two different types of cuisine,” Pugin says. “There are old-school dishes that our customers still appreciate. And my dishes are a little bit more contemporary. However, they blend pretty well in the menu. And it gives our guests alternatives.” — A.M. d e s e r t c o m pa n i o n . c o m 43

R estaurant of the year

Comme Ça

Maybe you haven’t yet tasted the best house-made charcuterie on the Strip, or the brilliant egg-topped steak tartare in a jar. Maybe you haven’t lunched on the terrace overlooking Las Vegas Boulevard, wolfing down a BLT made with luscious pork belly. Maybe you haven’t plunked down at the comfy bar and dabbled with the creative Prohibition-era cocktail list, and then, when you’ve had too many, indulged in perhaps the greatest bar snack of all time: roasted bone marrow with rich oxtail jam. If you haven’t done these things at Comme Ça, transplanted from Los Angeles to The Cosmopolitan by David Myers, then sure, maybe you’re surprised it’s our Restaurant of the Year. But the truth is this modern brasserie is pitch-perfect right now for the ever-changing Vegas dining universe. It’s a satisfying spin 44 D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 1

on the world’s greatest cuisine. Its modular design provides experiences both casual and formal, taking apart the question of fine dining. It’s a foodie haven and a specialty eatery while remaining approachable and affordable. In the small, exciting stable of restaurants the year-old Cosmo has unleashed upon us, Comme Ça is the most versatile, warm and welcoming. It confounds no one but pleases us all. Credit goes to Myers, Cosmo’s John Unwin and his F&B team, and executive chef Brian Howard, a young Vegas veteran who was tasked with turning things around when, unlike the resort, the restaurant started slow. To say Howard and his crew have hit their stride would be an understatement; Comme Ça is a hit in every way. — B.R.

P h oto g r a p h y : S a b i n ORR

Inside The Cosmopolitan, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S. | 698-7910,

clockwise from left: Crispy-skin Liberty duck breast and confit leg in Szechuan peppercorn sauce; Comme Ça's charcuterie plate; Chef Brian Howard at work; egg-topped steak tartar.

BONUS Still hungry? Read more 2011 faves from chefs, critics and foodies at

d e s e r t c o m pa n i o n . c o m 45

Create Gourmet Burgers is just one outlet that makes Sin City a true burgerville.

b 46 D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 1

r e g r u b CITY by Brock Radke Photography Christopher smith

Many months ago, way before the popular food truck he created with his friend Robert “Mags” Magsalin blossomed into the kind of fresh, hip Hollywood eatery where Jim Carrey would pop in on opening night, Colin Fukunaga was talking a little smack. If you’ve met Colin — if you’ve ever checked out the goods from the Fukuburger truck, he’s always around — this comes as no surprise. It’s always good-natured smack-talking, and this occasion was no different. He was talking about taking over the world. He was excited about the success of his super-hyped Japanese burgermobile. But he was most jacked up about the potential of Fukuburger to achieve the opposite of traditional Vegas restaurant success. All the great restaurants here started somewhere else and then came to the Strip, he explained — loudly — and it’s about time something started in Las Vegas and expanded outward. >>>


Does Las Vegas h an official ave fo It does nowod? The hambur : ge Here’s why r.

d e s e r t c o m pa n i o n . c o m 47

And now it has. Fukuburger L.A. opened in October. And while Colin, Mags and their team have proven it’s possible to take local food to the next level, all I can think about is how good their burgers are: perfectly medium rare every time, beefy juices commingling with furikake and teriyaki, fried egg adding that extra rich flavor bomb. Theirs is one of the best burgers in Vegas, which is why it’s in L.A. And it’s another tasty reason why Vegas is the best place to eat a burger. It’s our official food. No one can question that our city is one of the world's greatest — and most unique — dining destinations. But there's no regional cuisine in the desert. There's no signature American food item categorically linked to Las Vegas in the manner of the Philly cheesesteak, the soul food of the South, Texas barbecue or the Chicago/New York hot dog/pizza ... whatever. You get the point. But we are in the age of the burger. It's been the most popular of American meals pretty much forever, an icon on a sesame seed bun. These days it’s celebrated in every way, from TV shows and blogs dedicated to finding the best, most bad-ass burger, to celebrity chefs crafting a namesake ground beefwich. Every restaurant has a burger, and it’s probably pretty good. Fancy French restaurants have burgers, and they’re amazing. What other foodstuff is simply reduced in size and called an appetizer? This is where Vegas comes in. We have the greatest variety available here, a burgerverse unto itself. That’s because, like Colin pointed out, everybody comes to Vegas. It took me a while to realize that not every city in the United States has Normal, Illinois’ Steak ‘n' Shake; Washington, D.C.’s Five Guys; San Antonio’s Fuddruckers; and California’s In-N-Out, Tommy’s, Fatburger and Farmer Boys. This is an all-encompassing selection, and it’s only the casual burger beginnings. All burgers, all the time, all the prime beef and toppings you can think of — this is the way of the fancy Vegas burger joint, one of which can be found in just about every casino on the Strip. At Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay, you can add black truffles or foie gras. At BLT at Mirage, each burger is a blend of short rib, brisket, chuck and sirloin. At Holsteins at The Cosmopolitan, the beef is dry-aged. At KGB at Harrah’s, there’s a burger modeled after a Cobb salad. At Burger Joint at the Flamingo, the Burning Love burger has cayenne-peppered bacon, jalapeños and pepper jack cheese — unless you want to make it a Scorcher and add ghost pepper sauce. Why would you do that? Then there are our fine-dining masterpieces, like the famous ground steak burger at Bradley Ogden (Caesars Palace) or the legendary prime hamburger at Delmonico Steakhouse (Venetian). Have you had the burger at RM Seafood? It’s incredible — and they serve fish here! Please tell me you’ve tasted the Comme Ça burger at our Restaurant of the Year. It could have been the burger of the year, easily. Are there too many delicious burgers in Las Vegas? Yes, more than any other city, and we are willing to bet on it. And we have secret weapons, too, in our homegrown burgers. One day soon, no visitor’s whirlwind Vegas experience will be complete without grabbing a bite at Fukuburger, or perhaps the refined mini-burgers of their food truck family from Slidin’ Thru. There are astounding Asian flavors at Henderson’s Bachi Burger. There’s every topping in the book at Create Burger on West Lake Mead, and piles of pastrami or slathered chipotle sauce at Sammy’s L.A. Pastrami & Burgers. And you can't get more local than the beautifully greasy, ground-fresh-daily diner burger at Binion’s. We are burger city. Embrace it. In the most American of cities — in food trucks, fine restaurants and familiar chains — we represent the most American of meals like nowhere else. All in the middle of the desert. It’s unlikely and a little crazy — like Vegas itself. 48 D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 1

The great chain of burgerdom Four of Vegas’ best burgers represent the meaty magic in all its rich, juicy glory by Brock Radke

The Trendsetter

Burger Bar If a single restaurant started the gourmet burger trend in Las Vegas, it would have to be Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar at Mandalay Place in 2004. The fact that a renowned French chef was giving the haute cuisine treatment to America’s favorite sandwich made all the difference, and now every casino seems to have its own version of Burger Bar, some with big-name chefs attached. The original has Keller’s name on his favorite burger of ground buffalo, baby spinach, caramelized onions and blue cheese on a ciabatta bun. The lean buffalo keeps it light without losing richness, and the onions and cheese push the flavors into overdrive.

The Standard

Bradley Ogden Fine restaurants serving a cheeseburger at the bar is nothing new, but the kitchen crew at Bradley Ogden turned a simple meal into a masterpiece that famously attracted the attention of GQ critic Alan Richman. As BO is slated to close in early 2012, you only have a few more months to enjoy this beauty, which is ground mostly from ribeye, delicately wood-smoked and bathed in red wine and butter while cooked. If your love for burgers is based on the beef, good luck finding one better than this.

The Import

P.J. Clarke’s Vegas is dining heaven because we bring in the best from all over the world, and burgers are no different. The Cadillac at P.J. Clarke’s got its name from Nat King Cole, who clearly thought this old-fashioned bacon cheeseburger was the best you could get. That was in New York City a long time ago, and the updated Vegas version is available today at the new P.J.’s in the Forum Shops at Caesars. It’s a study in simplicity, the polar opposite of the wildly topped fancyburgers you can find everywhere. Call it classically delicious.

The Export

Fukuburger For all its food truck hipness and in-your-face attitude, it’s always been the food that has fueled Fukuburger’s rapid rise. Upstart restaurateur Harry Morton loved its scene and dedicated following, but he decided to invest in Fuku futures because of the unique flavors in these juicy, perfect burgers. The top seller is the Tamago, or egg burger, featuring a runny fried one on top of a marinated Fuku patty with furikake, teriyaki sauce, wasabi mayo and crispy onions. Will this be the most famous burger ever to come out of Vegas? Sure tastes like it.

d e s e r t c o m pa n i o n . c o m 49

David Robins of Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group

50 D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 1

Back to


The new rule for restaurants in the coming year: Keep it simple — and friendly. This guy would know

By Howard Riell

Fresh ingredients, a focus on value and a welcoming atmosphere. They’re not exactly austerity measures, but they make up the back-to-basics approach that will characterize the dining scene in 2012, according to David Robins. He should know. He’s managing partner of operations and corporate chef for Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group’s Las Vegas arm. As its executive chef in 1992, Robins oversaw the opening of Spago, the restaurant that proved that Vegas could do more than serve up heat lamp roast beef, starting the Las Vegas fine-dining wave that continues today. Robins recently shared his thoughts on the past year in dining — and the years to come.

d e s e r t c o m pa n i o n . c o m 51

believe there need to be experiences between the casual dining and the fine dining so that — if it’s a three-day visit or a five-day visit — everybody is taken care of. At the same time, you can still create a “wow” experience with pizza, pasta and salad as much as you can with foie gras and a roasted fish. Desert Companion: What kind of year has

DC: Has the Las Vegas dining-out customer

2011 been for the Las Vegas restaurant scene? David Robins: Fantastic. Probably one of our highlight years. After things kind of crashed a couple of years ago, we went into a new mode of operation and focused on service, hospitality and finance. All of that came to fruition this year as we were very fortunate to have a lot of traffic in town; a lot of our convention business and relationships with locals continued to grow. It was a record year, along with a year of stepping forward in hospitality and creating a “wow” experience.

changed over the last few years? DR: I think they’re a little more discerning. Also, I think they’re looking for a little bit more of a value, which is kind of in our climate currently. It’s up to the restaurant scene to create that in the sense of making people feel special at the door, being able to recognize special occasions. At the same time, people are a little bit more skeptical about the money they spend and they want to make sure they’re getting value and consistency with that dollar.

DC: What were the prevalent food trends? DR: Back to simplicity. Quality of ingredients.

DC: It’s been said that Las Vegas is not doing

Execution of technique in the kitchen. And utilizing seasonal produce. DC: Any restaurant openings that stand out? DR: I would say The Cosmopolitan probably

was the opening of the year for its collection of restaurants, and for its ambitiousness to continue to put more restaurants onto the Strip. DC: Noteworthy restaurant closings? DR: Michael Jordan’s restaurant off the

Strip, Rosemary’s. It probably, in my opinion, signified a change in the local market outside of the Strip. On the Strip, I can’t think if anything closing that was significant. DC: What does the current economy mean for

the restaurants in Las Vegas? Is it a time to open restaurants? Close them? DR: I think it’s a combination of both. We’re fortunate to have a pretty strong presence here in town with our six restaurants. We continue to try and reinvent ourselves with efficiencies, but at the same time create that customer experience that is unforgettable, so that they will come back and see us. We’re really into repeat business with our conventioneers, but also with our locals coming to see us two or three times a week. But also there are great opportunities right now. We’re always looking at expanding our operation here in town, and with the right opportunity we would always look at it.

52 D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 1

all it can to promote its top-flight culinary offerings — and that if it did, more people would come to Vegas. Do you agree? DR: I think we’re definitely a component in the entertainment factor of Las Vegas, and I think it is an untapped revenue source along with our great shows, the great concerts and events that go on here. Anything that can promote Las Vegas, that can bring people here to the hotel, gaming and entertainment sector, is important for our local market. DC: Las Vegas restaurant lore holds that you helped launch the last dining revolution here. True? DR: (Laughs) I don’t know if it’s me personally. I’m fortunate to work for Wolfgang, who was very visionary in 1992 to come to Las Vegas when the market did not bear fine-dining restaurants. I’ve been here for 20 years. I believe in Las Vegas, I believe in the food scene, and I believe in the people who make this town work. If I can be part of the rebirth of Las Vegas, or the continued success of it, I’m more than happy to do that. DC: Is another restaurant revolution needed? DR: I think so. Anything needs to be reinvented

with time. We were very fortunate to uproot an amazing food-and-beverage package for Las Vegas in the last 20 years. It may have gotten a little bit on the high-end side. I

DC: Where do Las Vegas restaurants need to

improve? DR: I believe it’s in consistency on hospitality,

making sure also that we are cooking with the best ingredients and not taking shortcuts. Focus on being the best that you can be within your environment. Whether it’s a freestanding restaurant or a casino restaurant, what I’m looking for is Las Vegas to be represented on the highest level. DC: What role does social media play in

helping to shape and lead the restaurant community here in town? DR: You know, I used to be Mr. Negative about social media, but what I realized is it’s a voice for the public to have an opinion on things instantly. What that means is that you’ve got to be on your game every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a renowned food critic from out of state or a local who’s coming into your restaurant; the individuals who dine in your restaurant have the opportunity, through Tweeting or texting, blogging, to make an opinion. That just means you’re being critiqued every day, every minute, and you’ve got to be the best you can be. I have no problem with that. I actually used the social media process for negative feedback, to go back to our group to point out opportunities where we can improve. DC: What’s going to happen in restaurants

nationally and in Las Vegas in the year ahead? DR: I believe, nationally, that there is a

recommitment to the art of food. Again, I go back to quality of ingredients and technique of cooking to execute that. Hospitality being more sincere would probably be on top of the list. Also, managing your businesses to create a family environment that makes people feel comfortable and willing to go to work and execute it on a high level. I believe it’s happening nationally and that it is going to penetrate into Las Vegas. I think we’re only on an upward process here in Las Vegas, to continue to be one of the top destinations — culinarily and entertainmentwise — in the United States.

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Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour


Happy HoliWHAT I CAN’T HEAR YOU I said happy holiSORRY STILL CAN’T HEAR YOU Oh, geez, never miNEVER MIND ABOUT WHAT? Give the gift of fat, brassy bombast this season with the Walt Boenig Big Band. They’re performing holiday hits in true ensemble style: loudly. They perform for free 2 p.m. Dec. 18 at CSN’s Nicholas J. Horn Theatre. Info:



Seeing a Michael Jackson tribute produced by Cirque du Soleil is like drinking Dr Pepper with a straw made of Pop Rocks. In other words, your face just might explode from a case of Billie Jean moonwalk overdrive. And for serious fans looking to have what’s left of their faces explode even more, they can check out the Michael Jackson Fan Fest exhibit. Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour is Dec. 3-27 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Tickets $50-$175. The Michael Jackson Fan Fest is Dec. 3-14 at Mandalay Bay’s Bayside Exhibit Hall. Tickets $35-$75. Info:


If The Nutcracker is to remain a viable holiday tradition, we must supply the inexorable machine that is this seasonal mainstay with fresh souls. Thus we present The Nutcracker II: Dark Harvest. Okay, it’s not actually called that, but this Nutcracker put on by the Nevada School of Dance will feature 60 young, fresh souls who should keep the franchise running for a few decades. NOW GET BACK TO DANCING, KIDS. It happens 7 p.m. Dec. 16 and 6 p.m. Dec. 17 at Faith Lutheran High School, 2015 S. Hualapai Way. Tickets $10-$15. Info: www.

I mean, Salvador Dalí painted melting clocks and 3D Jesuses, so is it any surprise the guy was obsessed with atomic energy? Judith Overcash should know; she’s a longtime docent at the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. Overcash discusses the influence of the Atomic Age on Dalí’s work in “Dalí and the Atomic Bomb” 6 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Atomic Testing Museum, 755 E. Flamingo Road. Admission $5-$10. Info:


Jonny Detiger’s “Wow”

Warning. Dutch artist and designer Jonny Detiger can see right through you — and he likes what he sees: the unfiltered thoughts, images and curious impressions that swirl inside all of us — you know, the original Twitter. That’s what he captures in the sophisticated but whimsical mixed media work of “Stream of Consciousness,” which runs through Dec. 30 at Brett Wesley Gallery at 1112 S. Casino Center Blvd.,

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writers whose work is influenced or inspired by Southern Nevada collaborate to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Vegas Valley Book Festival. Free. Clark County Government Center Rotunda Gallery Let Them Eat Cake Through Dec. 12. Feast your eyes on some sweet artwork. Let Them Eat Cake is a collection of local artists’ work inspired by all things cake — and Marie Antoinette’s beheading. UNLV’s Marjorie Barrick Museum Stream of Consciousness Through Dec. 30. Dutch artist and designer Jonny Detiger translates conversations, random encounters and daydreams into playful mixed media works that include drawings, paintings and sculptures. He explores human relationships and the nature of happiness in these works that manage to be both sophisticated and whimsical. Brett Wesley Gallery, 1112 S. Casino Center Blvd., A Place in Paradise Through Dec. 31. A slate of historic photographs showcases the Mid-Mod throwback neighborhood, Paradise Palms, the city’s first master-planned community. Situated around the Boulevard Mall, it is now seeing an influx of professionals who are attracted to its historic charm. Boulevard Mall food court,

Rumor de Lobos Grandes: Endi Poskovic Selected Prints Through Jan. 9. Endi Poskovic’s prints are like posters from bygone eras that seem at once familiar and remote, ordinary yet magical. That’s because those eras exist largely in Poskovic’s mind. Taking influences as diverse as movie posters, Japanese woodcuts and Eastern European propaganda posters, Poskovic’s pieces explore cultural identity, alienation and social history. But above all, they’re a pleasure to look at. Historic Fifth Street School.www. Tales from Fremont Street Through Jan. 15. View original art, conceptual drawings and scripts from the locally produced noir comic book anthology “Tales from Fremont Street.” You’ll get a glimpse behind the process that goes into

creating illustrated fiction. UNLV’s Marjorie Barrick Museum

marquees of the city. Free. West Charleston Library

To The Neon Gods They Made

Transfigured Lands

Through Jan. 20; reception Dec. 2,

Through Jan. 14; reception Dec. 3, 6 p.m.

5:30 p.m. Photographs by Michael

Mark Baugh-Sasaki’s work aims to

Monson and Tony Flanagan of stalled and abandoned construction projects in Las Vegas, from the Strip to the suburbs. Through HDR imaging, the artists breathe life back into these promises of progress, at the same time illuminating the tragic realities of these fallen “saviors.” Winchester Cultural Center Gallery

make viewers more aware of their environment and their connection to it, investigating water as a transformative force within this new hybrid landscape we live in. His site-specific exhibition transforms the traditional gallery space into an environment of its own. The Pop Up Art House gallery, 730 W. Sunset Road,

Vegas Spectacular: From the Stage to the Strip Through Jan. 22. This photographic retrospective from the Las Vegas News Bureau explores the relationship between the spectacle of the stage show and the mid-century

The Small of the Back Dec. 1-31. Painter Lincoln Maynard, sculptor Scott Sandoval and digital artist Francois Dubeau use lines, strokes, planes and other minimalist techniques to celebrate the com-

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forting and restorative power of the female form. Sin City Gallery inside the Arts Factory, Mama’s Fabric Visual Arts Exhibit Dec. 7-Jan. 28. This comprehensive exhibition by John Broussard centers on Beatrice Dixon, a community organizer, seamstress and a believer in the American Dream. West Las Vegas Arts Center Gallery, 947 W. Lake Mead Blvd., (702) 229-4800,

Dance CSN Fall Dance Concert Dec. 2, 7 p.m.; Dec. 3, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Embark on an intellectual explora-

tion of life, death and the ultimate meaning of existence — yeah, heavy stuff — when CSN’s Fall Dance Concert pays homage to composer Gustav Mahler, with choreographer Kelly Roth presenting the composer’s massive Symphony No. 9. $8-$10. CSN’s Nicholas J. Horn Theatre, Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour by Cirque du Soleil Dec. 3-27. Cirque du Soleil’s unique tribute to Michael Jackson uses visuals, dance, music and fantasy segments — and, of course, the King of Pop’s signature moves. $50-$175. Mandalay Bay hotelcasino, The Nutcracker December 17-24. The only nut I’ve ever

seen at “The Nutcracker” is my emotional mother bawling at the sight of the sugar plum fairies — and she’s Jewish. Bring your nuts, er, family members to experience this holiday classic. Nevada Ballet Theatre performs “The Nutcracker” Dec. 17-24 at Paris Theâtré. Info: 946-4567. Las Vegas Ballet Com-

58 D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 1

pany’s “Nutcracker” runs Dec. 2023 at Summerlin Library Theatre. Info: 240-3262

Festivals and Family Events Annual Holiday Spectacular at Springs Preserve December 3-4, 11-12 and 17-23, 5-9 p.m. Enjoy holiday cheer this year with

music by a wide array of local artists, holiday-inspired goodies at The Springs Cafe, cookie decorating and photos with Santa Claus. Little ones can hop on the train and reindeer ride, while you shop for “green” gifts at the gift shop. While you’re there take a whirl on their ice rink — and don’t forget your mittens. ($5/person, includes skate rental). $8/adults, $5/children 5-12, free/4 and under. Members receive half-off regular-priced admission.

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Festival of Lights Dec. 10, noon-6 p.m. Now in its 11th

year, the Festival of Lights at The Lakes will attempt to sparkle, dazzle and outshine itself. Bask in the glory of innumerable wattage and then get back to your to-do list. A Goodwill truck will also be there to collect donations. Free. The Lakes on West Sahara,

Lectures, Readings and Panels 50 Ways to Leave Your Love: New Media and Breaking Up Dec. 6, 7:30 p.m. It is still ideal to breakup in person, but in actual practice, people use a wide variety of social media and technology to get the job done. A breakup is a breakup. Unless, of course, you are notified by Facebook that you are no longer in a relationship, then it’s a whole different story. Or is it? Dr. Gershon will examine people’s complicated interpretations for explaining how a medium affects a message. Free. UNLV’s Marjorie Barrick Museum Auditorium


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Dalí and the Atomic Bomb Dec. 9, 6 p.m. Lecturer Judith Overcash, a docent at the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, will discuss the famous surrealist painter’s fascination and obsession with atomic energy, and how they were expressed in his famous works, including holograms and other artistic endeavors. $5-$10. Atomic Testing Museum, 755 E. Flamingo Road,

Music UNLV Choral Ensembles Winter Concert Dec. 2, 7:30 p.m. There is an abundance of opportunities to hear holiday music throughout the season, but the UNLV Choral Ensembles Winter Concert is a special delight that includes the participation of all four university choirs. $8-$10. UNLV’s Artemus Ham Hall, www.

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Mark Baugh-Sasaki’s “Hybrid Interactions”

Branch manager Is it a tree or a power pole, a spray of branches or a cluster of wires? In the sculptures of Mark Baugh-Sasaki, it’s hard to tell the difference — and that’s the point. Fascinated with the hybrid landscape we live in, where the natural and the artificial coexist and sometimes clash, Baugh fuses the two realities into sculptures that are singular — and singularly beautiful. “Transfigured Lands” is on exhibit through Jan. 14 at The Pop Up Art House gallery on 730 W. Sunset Road, — Andrew Kiraly

Neil Berg’s Broadway Holiday Dec. 3, 7 p.m. It’s a Broadway holiday at this night of White Way hits, from “Chicago” to “Wicked,” featuring composer/lyricist Neil Berg. This holiday music will move you no matter your faith. $35-$75. UNLV’s Artemus Ham Hall, www. Winchester’s Ancestral Rhythms Dec. 3, 2 p.m. Drums are a musical sta-

ple in many cultures, and they often help hold the community together. The Winchester Ancestral Rhythms group combines rhythms and techniques from many cultures to create a unique performance style. $5. Winchester Cultural Center Pete Contino Band Dec. 10, 2 p.m. Contino’s mix of blues, Americana, Cajun, and roots music is creating legions of fans in North America and Europe. Little wonder: The Las Vegas-based singer and accordion player is the son of legendary accordionist Dick Contino. $10-$12, Winchester Cultural Center Andrea Bocelli Dec. 10, 8 p.m. The opera sensation returns to the U.S. for a concert tour, this time featuring conductor Eugene Kohn, soprano Ana Maria Martinez and the Tony Awardwinning Heather Headly. $75-$400. MGM Grand Garden Arena Las Vegas Philharmonic Pops II: A Holiday Celebration Dec. 17, 2 p.m., 8 p.m. Singers Kristen Hertzenberg (“Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular”) and Travis Cloer (“Jersey Boys”) along with the Las Vegas Master Singers perform favorite Christmas and Hanukkah melodies. $38-$78. UNLV’s Artemus Ham Hall, Walt Boenig Big Band Holiday Concert Dec. 18, 2 p.m. The Walt Boenig Big Band will knock your candy-cane

stockings and Santa hat right off with their bone-rattling big sound. Sit up close — if you dare. Free. CSN’s Nicholas J. Horn Theatre, Trans-Siberian Orchestra Dec. 29, 4 p.m., 8 p.m. The renowned progressive rock ensemble takes holiday classics and gives them the full-blown rock-opera treatment, complete with pyrotechnics and tight pants. $32-$59.50. UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center, www. Stevie Wonder Dec. 31, 9 p.m. The soul sensation will celebrate the arrival of 2012 with a concert that revisits — and recharges — his greatest hits. $250. The Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan,

Theater A Christmas Carol Dec. 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17, 8 p.m. You can imitate him by saying,

“Bah, humbug,” but don’t be a Scrooge by opting out of the joyful performance that is “A Christmas Carol.” $20-$30. UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre, Deadman’s Cell Phone Dec. 2-18. When a diner patron witness another one drop dead and answers his mobile phone as it insistently rings, she becomes tangled up in his mysterious life and dramatic family … with whistle stops in both the underworld and the hereafter. $13-$15. Las Vegas Little Theatre, 3920 Schiff Drive. The Elves and the Shoemaker Dec. 8, 10 a.m. The California Theatre Center hosts the offbeat tale, “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” in which two merry elves come to the aid of a very distressed shoemaker in the Black Forest. UNLV’s Artemus Ham Hall. 1-800-606-0424,

Mojave air the tree’s arm reaches over onto the balcony dry slivered footsteps the edge of wind love someone this way and you might end up a pinecone on some other planet’s pine tree leaves fall and they are orange sunlight pressed between cracks the sky is curved we can swim — Shannon Salter

One Christmas Carol Dec. 9, 10 at 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 11, 2 p.m. Kellan D. Baker will test the limits

of man’s creative capacity by playing 32 distinct characters — and using only 3 chairs! — for his set in “One Christmas Carol,” based on Charles Dickens’ famous tale. $8-$10. CSN’s BackStage Theatre, Oliver! Dec. 9, 10, 16, 17, 7 p.m.; Dec. 11, 17, 18, 2 p.m. The Rainbow Company Youth The-

atre brings this pint-sized historical literary figure to life in their sureto-please performance of Dickens’ classic novel. $3-$7. Charleston Heights Arts Center, 800 S. Brush St.,

Fundraisers The Magical Forest at Opportunity Village Through Dec. 31, 5-10 p.m. What’s most

magical about The Magical Forest at Opportunity Village is not the beautiful forest, but how attendees help the OV’s clientele. 6300 W. Oakey Blvd., Library Tree Lane gala reception and auction Dec. 2, 7 p.m. This eighth annual fund-

d e s e r t c o m pa n i o n . c o m 61

raiser put on by Friends of Henderson Libraries will benefit the teen collection at Henderson libraries. Hosted by Père Noel, the event features Desert Companion editor and novelist Andrew Kiraly as its guest author. $25. Paseo Verde Library, 280 S. Green Valley Parkway, 492-6584 The Las Vegas Great Santa Run Dec. 3, 10 a.m. Put down the cookies and start training. The Las Vegas Great Santa Run is back and, whether or not you don red threads, this event is worth attending for the mere fact that you get to see neighbors and local celebrities sporting beards. $25-$45. Town Square,



BEST HOLIDAY EVENT OF THE YEAR 5301 West Charleston Blvd. | Between Decatur & Jones

62 D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 1

Enchanted Garden Party Dec. 3, 2:30-5:30 p.m. This party benefits Project AngelFaces, which creates social change through programs that share fresh fruits and vegetables and teach organic gardening. Entry fee includes raffle ticket, children’s garden tour, refreshments, live entertainment, and a gift bag. Also features a silent auction. $5-$25. Garden of Norm Schilling, 767 Rossmore Dr. www. Suite Holidays Dec. 16 6 p.m.; Dec. 17, 3 p.m. Get an

exclusive and extensive tour of the suites at the Cosmopolitan and sample wine and food pairings from some of the valley’s best restaurants. This fundraiser benefits Junior Achievement, a nonprofit that provides business, economics and life-skills programs for young people. $250 for the Dec. 16 VIP reception (includes suite tour); $125 for the Dec. 17 suite tour. Cosmopolitan hotel-casino, 214-0500, www.

The Holiday Spectacular happens at the Springs Preserve Dec. 3-4, 10-11 and 17-23.

VENUE GUIDE The Cosmopolitan 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 698-7000,

Historic Fifth Street School 401 S. Fourth St., 229-6469

The Orleans Showroom Inside The Orleans 4500 W. Tropicana Ave.,

CENTERpiece Gallery In CityCenter 3720 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 736-8790,

House of Blues Inside Mandalay Bay 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.,

Reed Whipple Cultural Center 821 Las Vegas Blvd. N., 229-1012

Insurgo’s Bastard Theater 900 E. Karen Ave. D114,

The Springs Preserve 333 S. Valley View Blvd., 822-7700,

Las Vegas-Clark County Library District Centennial Hills, Clark County, Enterprise, Rainbow, Sahara West, Summerlin, Sunrise, West Charleston and Whitney libraries, 734-READ,

UNLV Artemus Ham Hall, Judy Bayley Theater, Beam Music Center Recital Hall, Barrick Museum Auditorium, Black Box Theater, Greenspun Hall Auditorium, Paul Harris Theater, Student Union Theatre. 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, 895-2787,

Charleston Heights Arts Center 800 S. Brush St., 229-6383 Clark County Government Center 500 Grand Central Parkway, 455-8239 College of Southern Nevada BackStage Theater, Nicholas J. Horn Theater, Recital Hall, 3200 E. Cheyenne Ave., North Las Vegas, 651-5483,

MGM Grand Garden Arena In the MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S.,

Winchester Cultural Center 3130 S. McLeod Dr. 455-7340

d e s e r t c o m pa n i o n . c o m 63

last word

The sermons of “Father Lucky” are getting strange by david hart


News item: A church official’s recent admission to stealing parish funds to fuel his gambling addiction makes one wonder if there weren’t warning signs. Brothers and sisters, some among you may have heard whispers within our community of certain questionable financial matters at this parish. Let me assure you that such foul vapors are just that — transitory and to be avoided with pinched noses and squinted eyes. They whimper like a toy dog brought on to a casino floor for too long and in need of a bathroom break while their owner continues to feed a clearly rigged Battlestar Galactica slot machine. Much like that dog, I come here today to relieve myself.

64 D e s e r t C o m pa n i o n D e c e m b e r 2 0 1 1

Such did Jesus, uh, relieve himself in today’s gospel, Luke 7:11, with the raising of the widow’s son. His luck had run up — or so it would seem. How many of us have not felt as lonely as this widow, having lost all in our life? You will find yourselves in the pawn shop of your soul, trading off those antique figurines you inherited from your dad. You never really liked them, but knew they might be valuable one day. Yet somehow you feel sad selling them off, though they were a little creepy and racist. In those dark moments, if we believe in Him, we know that our luck will soon get hot again. You’ll get those figurines out of hock, as well as that antique revolver you sold off last month because of, uh, sinning. And lo, The Lord has

the bullets for that rare pistol, and you will brandish it wildly at any methed-up flunky muscle who comes to recoup for the loan sharks of, uh, the Devil. Heck, you might even fire off a round to let them know that you mean business though you know the noise may alert the nuns in the convent. Truly it is God who is the greatest gambler of all, the Kenny Rogers in the sky who knows always the times for holding and for folding. Let’s think about it. There are four gospels and four suits in cards. Two suits, red and black, like the wine and bread in communion. The Joker? Clearly, the Devil. The instructions card is the Bible, which we so often forget. Sometimes it can seem so far away from daily life, but we must play by the true rules of life and not by whatever rules the guys in the secret Russian poker games at the North Las Vegas Airport conference room play. I mean, the North Las Vegas Airport conference room of, uh, straying from His word. The Ace card? The card of faith, where believing rewards us with the 11, but doubt will bring us down to the 1. You have to believe, like you have to “see” the dice hitting that score you want at the craps table. You can always get on a roll with believing in Jesus. And it’s all in the wrist twist, like when he raised that widow’s son. See the connections? Which is the luckiest gospel — if you will, the King card? Definitely John. In the first 11 chapters, John describes 7 miracles, 7 declarations, and 7 discourses. What does that get us? Blackjack. It’s all there if you look closely. Speaking of, anyone else notice that the carpets at Bellagio are looking a little run-down? Sin is like a slot machine. We take our chances that we’re going to gain from it, but we always lose in the end. The house always wins. Especially the house of God. Besides, the real players know that the true money is in the card games and smart craps playing. Sure, you can make a killing on a fluke NCAA tournament pick and you can bet that one 12 seed is always due to knock off a 5. But a Cinderella like Davidson making it past the Sweet Sixteen is a rare miracle, like the raising of the widow’s son, and sports betting is for the feeble of spirit and intellect. God does not condone such squandering of His gifts. So let’s pass that collection plate around one more time, I’m feeling lucky. But let me blow on it first. Amen. David Hart, formerly an altar boy, is currently a writer for McSweeney’s, Monkeybicycle and other outlets.




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Desert Companion - December 2011  

Your guide to living in Southern Nevada. 15th annual restaurant issue.

Desert Companion - December 2011  

Your guide to living in Southern Nevada. 15th annual restaurant issue.