Page 1


squid vicious

a man and his kraken

prince of piece

artist Tony bondi

hump days

when camels roamed Nevada


three food critics, one large pizza and a raucous conversation about the year in dining


17 thAnnual

u r a a t s n e t R awards

Featu r



of t h bestyear’e drin eats,s chefks and s!


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editor’s note

Precision tater tots

i Next month in Desert Companion

Get to know who to know with our Power Issue

2 | Desert

I won’t go so far as to say I was disappointed by the lack of any physical confrontation, but I wouldn’t have necessarily interceded if Debbie had punched Al in the mohawk. Or maybe if Al had gotten Brock in an incapacitating arm-bar worthy of a UFC bout. Or maybe if Brock had delivered a surgical shin-kick to Debbie under the table. Perhaps it was because their print personae — honest, fiercely opinionated and, of course, always right — are so pronounced that I expected them to, you know, just totally go at it. However, count it as a credit to their professional restraint that dining critics Debbie Lee, Al Mancini and Brock Radke remained polite and well-mannered throughout our recent critics’ huddle over pizza and calamari. (They even seemed to — gasp — like each other.) For our annual Restaurant Awards issue, I brought them together to discuss the year in dining — the highs and lows, the coming trends, the fads we’re over — and to peek at the menu for 2014. I won’t steal the sizzle of their wide-ranging conversation, “Deep dish” (p. 64), but ready your fork and knife for something lively, unfailingly honest and frequently provocative.

Companion | December 2013

Their opinions vary wildly, but there’s one dominant flavor in the conversation, one that has come to define the dining scene for several years now: casualization. This is more than a blip on the radar. Rather, it’s looking more like a tectonic shift as we continue to adjust to whatever this “new normal” is that everyone is flapping their hands about. But don’t take that to mean Vegas is getting lazy. As we point out in “Party in the back” (p. 41), at its best, the Vegas take on casual fare embodies a playful and innovative spirit that goes well beyond mere remixes of sliders and tater tots. Even ex-Strip chefs with an appetite for adventure are migrating to our neighborhoods with their spin on more approachable eats. In some cases, they’re even overhauling the stereotypical grease bombs on the bar food menu, giving rise to a sort of gourmet populism. What’s at stake? Perhaps more than we think. If we keep in mind Vegas’ long pivot from selling chance to selling experiences — that magic combo of dining, drinking and dancing gone 3.0 — we’re reminded that our global rep is riding on this shift. We’re clearly doubling down on it. As we note in our critics’ round table, for better or

worse, even the leisurely four-hour tasting menu experience seems to have been put on fast-forward. And then there’s the main course, our 17th annual Restaurant Awards (p. 51). A Nevada Public Radio tradition started on the air in the 1990s, the awards represent our critics’ highest (and hard-earned) esteem for the year’s best places and personalities in Vegas dining and drinking. While casual may be the buzzword in culinary circles these days, that hardly means anybody is slumming. You’ll find that precision and passion are in equal abundance as our city’s top culinary talent continues to deliver not just dishes, but experiences worthy of second and third helpings. Congratulations to all the winners. Andrew Kiraly Editor

Helping them

SUCCEED Caesars Foundation recognizes the need our teachers have as they strive each day to expand the minds of children across Southern Nevada. To help reduce educators’ out-of-pocket costs and to reduce the amount of useful materials deposited in landfills each day, Caesars Foundation is proud to be the founding partner of The Public Education Foundation’s Teacher EXCHANGETM reuse resource center. The new Teacher EXCHANGE mobile store is bringing teaching tools into classrooms

4 color process

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® The will to do wonders®

contents desert companion magazine //



All Things to All People

Museum dreams By Scott Dickensheets



Attackin’ the kraken By Andrew Kiraly



Anthony Bondi’s clip jobs By Scott Dickensheets



Camels in the old west By Mark Hall-Patton



Casually sophisticated By Brock Radke



Music, art and more


End note



squid vicious

a man and his kraken

prince of piece

artist tony bondi

hump days

when camels roamed nevada


tHRee fooD cRItIcs, one laRge PIzza anD a Raucous conveRsatIon about tHe yeaR In DInIng


51 Restaurant Awards From the food to the people, we pick the best of the dining scene

4 | Desert

64 Deep dish

Our food critics dish on this year’s best meals and next year’s tasty trends

Companion | DECember 2013

17 thAnnual

R e s ta u R a n t awards




of th e bestyear’s ea dr ks ts, chin efs! and

on the cover Our Restaurant of the Year’s prime natural filet

D i n i n g R o o m a n d b u r g e r : S a b i n Orr ; k r a k e n : a a r o n m c k i n n e y

Come to Vegas, GOP! By Andrew Kiraly and Scott Dickensheets

Photo by Jaon Marcus.


“SHATNER’S WORLD: We Just Live In It” January 20

HOLIDAY CONCERT IN THE PARK Featuring Clint Holmes – December 8

“Astonishing! More than steamy, it’s smart, even funny” — Gary Parks, USA TODAY

January 28 — February 2

Photo by AJ Mast.

January 21 — January 22


Event Sponsored by Downtown Grand Las Vegas

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Take good care of your heart.

p u blish e D B y n e vada 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.

Publisher Melanie Cannon Associate Publisher Christine Kiely Editor Andrew Kiraly

Know the warning signs of a possible heart attack.

Art Director Christopher Smith deputy editor Scott Dickensheets Graphic Designer Brent Holmes

Chest pain is one warning sign of a possible heart attack. Know what you should do and where to go if you have chest pain.

Account executives Sharon Clifton, Carol Skerlich, Markus Van’t Hul, Tracey Michels, Favian Perez Marketing manager Lisa Kelly Subscription manager Chris Bitonti

Call 9-1-1. Go to the nearest emergency room.

Web administrator Danielle Branton traffic & sales associate Kimberly Chang

Remember, The Valley Health System hospitals offer advanced cardiac services and each is an accredited Chest Pain Center with PCI – the highest level of accreditation available.

Learn about Advanced Cardiovascular Services available at The Valley Health System hospitals.

Contributing writers Cybele, Jim Begley, Mark Hall-Patton, Mélanie Hope, Debbie Lee, Al Mancini, Christie Moeller, Brock Radke, Lissa Townsend Rodgers Contributing artists Bill Hughes, Jacob McCarthy, Aaron McKinney, Sabin Orr Editorial: Andrew Kiraly, (702) 259-7856;

Fax: (702) 258-5646 Advertising: Christine Kiely, (702) 259-7813;

Subscriptions: Chris Bitonti, (702) 259-7810;


For a physician referral, call Direct Doctors Plus SM

702-388-4888 Centennial Hills Hospital • Desert Springs Hospital Spring Valley Hospital • Summerlin Hospital • Valley Hospital

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 at select locations in the Las Vegas Valley. All photos, 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.

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6 | Desert

Companion | DECEMBER 2013

December 28-30 | 8pm Tickets Available at 702.739.2411 or

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shamoon ahmad, m.d., mba, facp kevin m. buckley First Real Estate Companies Louis Castle, Director emeritus Patrick N. Chapin, Esq., Director Emeritus


e’ve got our plant list, and we’re checking it twice. Is your yard looking naughty or nice? Happy Holidays from our family to yours! “One of the great things about gardening in Southern Nevada is that our soils never freeze. This means we can plant in cool weather & root systems will grow to prepare for the inevitable heat. The cool season is a great time to plant!” —Norm Schilling President of Schilling Horticulture Group and co-host of KNPR’s Desert Bloom

KIRK V. CLAUSEN Wells Fargo Elizabeth FRETWELL, Chair emeritus City of Las Vegas Jan Jones Blackhurst Caesars Entertainment Corporation

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to all people


cul t u r e


A museum with a twist

Pirate King He is the man

“I’ve always The art of downtown: The proposed who left, but some Modern Contemporary Art Museum felt the city has been of us won’t let a little cheated,” him go. I mean Brett Wesley Sperry Dave Hickey — the said, gesturing with famous art critic his champagne glass who lived here many amid a small knot of years before leaving people gathered in in 2010. He cast a The Lady Silvia bar. big shadow across Cheated, he meant, Vegas culture, and by the valley’s inso, whenever two or ability to provide itStaging a movement: more gather in the self the big cultural from left, Rehan Choudhry, Joey name of art, there’s facilities a proper Vanas and Michael Cornthwaite a good chance city ought to have. Hickey will come (Denise Cashman, developer Sam Cherry, our own FlorHowever, the crowd had just heard a few details about up. “Let’s move on!” ence Rogers) — people who can make things happen. the proposed Modern Contemporary Art Museum, a someone sugStill, you could sense a wariness among some. It wasn’t Sperry-led effort to redress that absence. gested at a recent just that many specifics were still TBD: What support, if According to Sperry and architect Eric Strain of Assemarts panel, but we any, will the city eventually offer? (“We don’t have a pool blageStudio, the $29 million MCAM will comprise 35,000 haven’t quit him yet. of money right now for a project,” Councilman Bob Coffin square feet of art space, another 15,000 for an education Now comes told the RJ.) What will the art program look like? Where facility, and a sculpture park. The unveiling was Nov. 14, Pirates and Farmers: will we park? It was also the weight of every toe-tagged but the effort — which also includes nonprofit fundraiser Essays on Taste, effort that’s come before, from LV MOCA to the Las Vegas Julie Murray — has been under way for a while. “Two and offering a fresh Art Museum to the Nevada Institute for Contemporary a half, three years,” Strain said. chance to decide Art — you could fill a museum with renderings of our unThe site: a plump, 2-acre triangle of empty land how much we realized dreams. Some of them had powerful boards, too. at Charleston Boulevard and Art Way, which Sperry should care. (Note: Also: Beyond the feedback loop of downtown culture, donated, and the value of which accounts for a chunk of I assigned him two how receptive is the community? At Lady Silvia, Patrick the $2.4 million organizers say they’ve raised. of these pieces Duffy, president of LVAM, praised MCAM’s effort. But a The design — an eye-catching stack of rectangles — when I edited the few weeks earlier, during a panel at the Vegas Valley Book derives from the convergence of the old 1905 city grid and Festival, he complained that few locals actually visited the current one, Strain said; this area is where they overcontinued on pg. 12 LVAM. And Sperry’s isn’t the only proposal hunting for lap. The MCAM team is especially jazzed about the edudonors: That week also saw a $45 million renovation camcation component, the Center for Creativity. Providing paign announced for the old Reed Whipple center. actual training in cultural production, they believe, will But the opening of The Smith Center and the can-do make the museum relevant well beyond downtown. gestalt of downtown are conducive to optimism, Nice. Definitely needed for the city’s cultural maturity. as are groovy renderings and a sense that it’s But is it feasible? To be sure, the announcement burbled time the city stop cheating itself. “If you don’t with optimism. Mayor Carolyn Goodman (whose husKeep up with Desert instigate and catalyze the community,” Sperband, the previous mayor, once said, “I don’t see a muCompanion events, news ry said, “it’s not going to build itself.” Meanseum for art as necessary for downtown”) is all for it: “Art and bonus features at while, over his shoulder, in a teasingly ironic is the heartbeat of a great city.” Murray recalled that her counterpoint, a TV screen on the bar’s wall budget at the hunger charity Three Square had been $55 played the fantasy classic The Neverending million, making $29 million sound much more doable. Story. — Scott Dickensheets Members of the board and advisory board were listed

Hear more more

Get Brenda a wide-ranging Priddy discusses look at the “carlocal spy arts photography” scene from on KNPR’s “KNPR’s “State State of Nevada” of Nevada” at at | 11

Las Vegas Weekly.) The title derives from his belief that there are two kinds of people: farmers, who set boundaries and tend a patch, and pirates, who swash their buckles and damn the rules. If he name-drops more than usual in this book, and seems a bit too smug about his pirate bona fides — the endless drug-use memories, for example — there is always the sinuous bebop of his prose, plus a favorable idea-to-fluff ratio. But be warned: If you’re not up to speed on your art theory, it may be hard to keep up with some of the intellectual parkour. (I’m still panting.) Vegas shows up occasionally, mostly as a pirate-friendly backdrop for his shots at the art world, though “Las Vegas for Sissies” is a nice defense of the city against the prudishness of outside cultural arbiters. It’s likely he’ll have more to say about us in his next book, Pagan America, due out, Amazon says hopefully, on Jan. 1. Let’s see what we think of him then. — Scott Dickensheets

ON THE TOWN Liberace was the original king of bling, and exhibit “Too Much of a Good Thing is Wonderful” features his brightest (literally!) pieces through Jan. 2 throughout the Cosmopolitan. Info:

12 | Desert

t e ch n o l o gy

An app for that, and that, and yes, that ... There’s a new gold rush in Nevada — the tech startup gold rush. Ever since Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project dedicated $50 million to seeding Vegas tech, other funds have begun — and the startups have come courting. The venture capital is just one factor. “Las Vegas is an ideal place for a tech startup because of our low cost of living, our proximity to L.A. and the fact that it’s a global center for tourism,” says Michael Terpin, a veteran startup investor and founder of SocialRadius, a social media campaign agency. “And if you’re a 22-year-old engineering student from Stanford, Vegas is not a horrible place to live.” Here are a handful of notable contenders in the startup scene. Rolltech Their hype: “Our innovative, patent-pending technology allows bowlers to automatically track scores and statistics in real time, share their bowling experience with friends, and compete globally without leaving their favorite bowling center.” In other words: A bowling score-keeper that takes your game — and, yes, those gutter balls — global. Our completely hunch-based forecast for success: Promising. Crisp interface, more features than prominent competitors. Will avid bowlers use it? For all their love of heavy balls, you might be surprised how tech-savvy they are. ( Klinq Their hype: “Klinq (pronounced ‘Clink’) is a ‘Social Beverage Network’ that allows users to browse, send and redeem exclusive deals at surrounding venues via their mobile device.” In other words: You can prepurchase discounted drinks, and even buy that cute guy a beer without ever making eye contact. Three cheers for tech! Success forecast: Cloudy. Who doesn’t love 99cent drinks? But Klinq will need that Facebook-like critical mass of adoption — among both drinkers and bars — to really get the party started. ( Tabeso Their hype: “Tabeso is the best way to discover, share, and attend all types of events, anywhere in the world.”

Companion | December 2013

Start me up: Chad Ramos, co-founder of event app Tabeso

In other words: Imagine if the NSA wasn’t evil and scraped data about concerts, art exhibits and community events. Tabeso aims to be the one event app to rule them all. Forecast: Promising. Has ambitious breadth and pretty muscular customizing options. ( Paywall Their hype: “PayWall creates a digital barrier for premium and protected content enabling users to pay for only the content they want.” In other words: It’s a vendor-side system to selectively paywall content. No more shopping cart icons, no more maddening “You’ve used up your 10 free articles” (!) messages from the New York Times. Forecast: Likely success if it’s first to the punch. It’s high time the web more fully embraced the a la carte, pay-per-view model — without having to punch in your password and Visa number every time. ( TuneGO Their hype: “It’s the platform created by the career development professionals who have worked with the largest names in music. Do you want your music played on the radio? Do you want to work with the world’s largest music producers? Do you want to play exclusive live events? ... If you answered yes to any of these questions, then your answer is TuneGO.” In other words: Imagine if a major record label offered its services — promotion, distribution, tour support, licensing — to indie musicians on a subscription model. The only thing they don’t supply is emo hair. Forecast: Tough to call. In the era of musicians ditching the major label machinery and selling their music directly, will this strike a note? ( — Andrew Kiraly

c h a d r a m o s : B r e n t hO L MES

continued from pg. 11


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Shout it: Troy Heard directs “The Chalk Boy” Dec. 6-22 at Cockroach Theatre in Art Square.

14 | Desert

Companion | December 2013

PHOTOGRAPHY BY bill hughes

Troy Heard Theater director Look at this guy, Troy Heard! Is he bringing it or what? Now, that’s the look of a director you can imagine slamming “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” onto a stage. Not to mention the gonzo history of “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” or “Summer Camp the Musical.” But he’s also put on “Death of a Salesman,” America’s echt tragedy. And a pared-down, updated, emotionally intense “Hamlet.” Each of which has earned him critical praise, some criticism and, for Vegas, pretty good buzz. This month he directs the black comedy “The Chalk Boy” for Cockroach Theatre, which he describes as “Mean Girls meets David Lynch.” Obviously, Heard prefers a sense of in-betweenness: in between the fiber of art and the fluff of entertainment, between the light and dark … the kind of headspace, in other words, where Friday the 13th meets A Chorus Line and gives gleeful birth to, actual show here, “Blood Orgy of the Chainsaw Chorus Line.” “I want to do big, splashy, entertaining shows,” he says, mentioning “Oklahoma!” (with chainsaws, maybe?) and “My Fair Lady” (ditto!) “But,” partly because his mom weaned him on Nosferatu, Frankenstein and the horror classics, “I’ve never been afraid of the dark. I love the dark. It’s life. Life is death, death is life, yin and yang. It’s all together.” And, perhaps, intertwined with his work: His mother died last Christmas, he says, “and it seems like every show I’ve done this year features a death somehow. It wasn’t planned that way, but you can see a through-line.” What drew you to “The Chalk Boy,” Troy? “The darkness,” of course — a boy has disappeared, and in the aftermath four girls examine both their own relationships and their small town’s underbelly. The “Chalk” in the title refers to the missing boy, Jeff Chalk, but also cues the play’s inventive staging: “We have to convert the entire space into a gigantic chalkboard,” Heard says. “They construct the story out of chalk, narrating as they go along.” Another thing he loves about the play: its recent vintage. “When you’re given a

new script that doesn’t have a legacy, that hasn’t been done a thousand times,” he says, “you don’t feel you have to follow a stamp that’s been laid out for generations.” And if not every play can be new, many can be made new. “Death of a Salesman,” for instance. “The first thing I did was find all the humor and pull all the humor up to the surface.” Not the usual approach. Then he added innovative video sets. (He embedded video in “Hamlet,” too.) He’s clearly after a contemporaneity suitable to the existential humor that marks our culture now. “After Mel Brooks, after ‘South Park,’ no one’s safe,” he says. “The generation coming up has that sensibility. … That’s your new audience.” “I was the kid with the VHS camera on my shoulder, making movies in my backyard,” Heard says. “But it was Georgia in the early ’80s; there wasn’t a film community.” Theater offered an alternative — plus an appealing immediacy: Hey, actors! Let’s find a space and put on a show. “I did shows in garages, dance studios, loft warehouses; wherever you could find a space, I’d put something up in there.” Fastforward to the Vegas theater scene circa 2013, and it feels pretty familiar. It’s a small scene, lively but overlooked by the masses. “There’s a little bit of frustration in that this is the only city of this size that I’ve lived in that doesn’t have a theater community,” he says. “But it’s the yin and the yang. You’ve got talented artists here who are creating great work — they just need to find an audience.” He doesn’t necessarily blame the Strip for luring those audiences away with its bendy Cirque performers and milliondollar production values. “It’s like finding a delicious lunch at a hole-in-the-wall,” he says. “That’s what local theater is. The Strip is In-N-Out.” But who doesn’t like In-NOut? “There’s room for both,” he insists, adding, “I’ve tried to convert colleagues to the Vegas way, tried to bring them out from the East Coast. Because you can come here and do your own thing. As long as you have the consistent quality, you can make your mark.” — Scott Dickensheets



Non-Profit 501(c)3 | 15


Giving tips

Presents perfect

What do they like? How much should I spend? What’s appropriate? Jewelry? A novelty item? A gift card? The giving season can often be the stressing season when it comes to spreading holiday cheer among friends, co-workers and loved ones. Never fear. We tapped local gift-giving experts to help wrap up your last-minute shopping with some holiday shopping tips.

by Christie Moeller

Randi Garrett

Sheila Keast

Floral designer, owner, Naakiti Floral Worst gift you ever received? A glass dish with candy inside. Best gift? A $1,200 tip! It blew my mind! Top gift-giving tip? It should have a meaning behind it. Find out what the person loves that makes it more valuable. Money is always nice, but I would remember the gift better if it had the thought process behind it. Biggest gift-giving pet peeve? When people give because they feel they have to, not because they want to. Your go-to gift this season? A trip to the spa is always nice, or a really good bottle of wine.

Owner, Sheila Keast Etiquette Worst gift you ever received? Electronic scales linked to a Fitbit bracelet. Best gift? A donation of baskets of toys, food and toiletries to a homeless shelter in my name. Top gift-giving tip? Think about what the person does, what they’re passionate about, what their hobbies are. Make sure it’s something they will enjoy and make use of. Your biggest gift-giving pet peeve? Gift cards. If you know a person well enough and that they love to shop at a particular store, a gift card can be ok. But the whole point of receiving a gift is that it comes from the heart — not picked up at the grocery store and thrust into an envelope! Your go-to gift this season? For the lady in your life, a beautiful keepsake jewelry box. For the gentleman, a fashionable Mont Blanc timepiece.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, available at Total Wine

Jewelry box in Tiffany Blue leather, large. $1,570, available at Tiffany in the Forum Shops at Caesars

Jonathan Nichols Owner, J. Glenn Home Decor Worst gift you ever received? My partner gave me satellite radio for our anniversary. You do not give someone satellite radio as a gift, espeThe Michael cially an anniversary. Jewelry Aram Orchid — that is what you give for an Candle, available at J.Glenn anniversary. Best gift? During a good friend’s 40th birthday, I did a ton of research and found 40 of her favorite things. Then I arranged to sneak into her house and set them up for her when she returned home from work. Top gift-giving tip? Whenever I’m out shopping with friends or family, I always pay attention to what they’re gravitating towards. I also take a note of items in their home, such as a scented candle or style of decor. Then purchase things accordingly. With smart phones, you can take a photo or make a quick note without them even noticing. Biggest gift-giving pet peeve? Giving a gift card and nothing else. A gift card says to me, “I was standing in line at Starbucks and remembered I had not gotten you a birthday gift.” Your go-to gift this season? Michael Aram Black Orchid Candle. It is beautifully packaged and the perfect scent for any household.

Renee Ursem

Let it show: Tickets to a show at The Smith Center make a perfect holiday gift.

16 | Desert

Companion | December 2013

Professional organizer Worst gift you ever received? A fertility idol (offended me on so many levels!) Best gift? A chainsaw. I got tired of borrowing my dad’s to trim the branches of my pine trees, so I asked (and asked and asked) for a chainsaw. That Christmas, my new in-laws (with a dubious look on their faces) handed me my gift. Top gift-giving tip? Ask what people want. If you don’t ask the person directly, ask a friend or family member, or look on their Facebook page to see what they like. Biggest gift-giving pet peeve? People feeling the need or obligation to give gifts. Give gifts because you want to, not because you “have” to. Your go-to gift this season? I’m a big fan of homemade goodies, especially something that’s your signature recipe. Mine is a wafer-thin sugar cookie. I also like to give the gift of an experience (dinner or a movie and dessert), where you can spend time together.




Happy new dining Ah, New Year’s Eve. That magical night when Vegas is transformed into a volcano filled with drunks. But not for you. Oh, you’re over such trite juvenilia, preferring instead to spend the evening among close friends and loved ones over a memorable meal. Hungry for a unique menu to ring in 2014? Look no further than our hand-culled list of some of the most exotic — and plain fun — New Year’s Eve dining options out there. — Andrew Kiraly You want to ...

Splurge like foodie royalty on the Strip, far removed from the hoi polloi fighting it out on the streets for scraps of Slim Jim and Vitamin Water Comme Ça Random sampling from the menu: Live scallop cru with tangerine juice, fennel and harissa (Tunisian chili sauce); Maine lobster poached in vanilla with black truffle, sunchoke, petrified salsify (a root vegetable that tastes like artichoke heart); tournedos of beef ribeye roasted with oxtail bone marrow and chestnut agnolotti with sweet onion braised in red wine; roasted pigeon and white truffle, port wine, abalone mushroom tart Tip: This was our 2012 Restaurant of the Year. Re-congratulations! (In The Cosmopolitan, starting at $75-$199, 698-7910) Hakkasan Random sampling from the menu: Pumpkin soup with shredded chicken and fresh bamboo shoot; wok-braised Australian lobster in buttermilk and almond; Mongolian grilled lamb chop; baked black cod with truffle and supreme soya sauce and egg white; black sesame chocolate cremeux, mint fondant, purple taro ice cream Tip: It’s big — a 20,000-squarefoot space that seats 250, to be exact — but also popular, so book early. Like, NOW! (Inside the MGM Grand, starting at $70$500, 891-3838)

18 | Desert

Have an intimate dinner with your siggie, engaging in rituals such as “googly eyes” and “lingering glances” André’s Random sampling from the menu: American caviar with champagne panna cotta; chicken and truffle galantine with carrot chips; duck foie gras mi-cuit (half-cooked); roasted mushroom soup with red wine creme and gremolata; braised veal cheek with spiced pork jus, carrot risotto and fennel salad; filet of beef in truffled Armagnac sauce Tip: Wine is fine, but French brandy is dandy: André’s boasts a collection of 100 Cognacs and 50 Armagnacs. If you feel like spending $35,000, there’s a 1777 bottle available. (In the Monte Carlo, $185 per person, Alizé Random sampling from the menu: Rabbit confit with tomato marmalade and prosciutto; gazpacho terrine with avocado mousse; Russian Osetra caviar with salmon gravlax; vegetarian caviar with marinated cucumbers, carrot ribbons and crème fraîche; spice-crusted venison carpaccio with a cider reduction, Fuji apples, candied walnuts and red endive; veal tenderloin with leek purée, crispy sweetbreads, baby carrots, herb mustard and Madeira veal jus; roasted mushroom toban yaki Tip: There are few better places for a midnight smooch — amid a sweeping, 280-degree view of the Strip. (In the Palms, $175$295, 951-7000)

Companion | December 2013

Dine in the new year. From above: Alizé interior; Alizé’s toban yaki; Rao’s fruitti di mare; Circus Circus Steakhouse; Hakkasan

Circus circus steakhouse Random sampling from the menu: Black bean soup; French onion soup; bleu cheese wedge salad; Waldorf wedge salad; mesquite-broiled filet mignon; Australian lobster tail; garlic mashed potatoes Tip: No, The Steakhouse at Circus Circus isn’t where Juggalos take Juggalettes for prom; it’s a surprisingly swank beef-andwine spot that does dependable classics. (In Circus Circus, $79, 794-3767)

Party it up, bro, but, you know, like, also eat something decent, too Rao’s Random sampling from the menu: Fried artichoke hearts with marinara and garlic sauce; baconwrapped shrimp with fig and pear chutney; velvety pumpkin soup with caramelized apples; frutti

di mare squid ink pasta; beef lasagna with ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella; seared Chilean sea bass with smoked potato puree; roasted chicken over Israeli couscous; gingerbread tiramisu Tip: Take advantage of its accessibility; the people eating at Rao’s New York on New Year’s Eve made their reservations in 1972. (In Caesars Palace, $175 per person, 877-346-4642) Central Michel Richard Random sampling from the menu: Chestnut soup with foie gras; sous vide-poached egg; lobster risotto with brown butter; seared halibut with a citrus emulsion; veal chop with morel sauce; New York strip steak with roasted shallot Bordelaise sauce Tip: Think of it as good casino café food run through the mind of a culinary madman. (In Caesars Palace, $59 per person,

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department science

Tentacles and their suckers


A fossil park in central Nevada has become a flashpoint of debate over an unusual theory of what killed the site’s ancient ichthyosaurs. Somebody’s on kraken

The poor ichthyosaur was only looking for a snack. Dolphin-swift and diving deep, it pointed its toothy snout downward in search of a small mollusk or juicy squid on the ocean floor. But something bigger — and hungrier — lurked in those depths. Tentacles shot out from the dark — swift as living shadow, a grip as tight as a vise — taking the ichthyosaur by surprise. The kraken had found its prey. The ichthyosaur thrashed and flailed, but it was futile. Already the kraken was crushing the ichthyosaur with its powerful tentacles,

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Companion | December 2013

cracking its ribs, pulling the sea reptile toward its fearsome beak. Then it tore into the ichthyosaur, ripping it open. The kraken feasted. And when it had its fill, it did not discard the tattered corpse of the ichthyosaur. Rather, it held onto the body, later arranging the ichthyosaur’s spine — one of many it had collected over many months — in a pattern pleasing to the kraken’s inscrutable cephalopod brain. The kraken eventually amassed a collection of ichthyosaur spines, collecting and arranging them around its lair like an obsessed serial killer.

This isn’t a scene from a made-for-TV monster flick. Rather, it’s the scene that plays out in the mind of Prof. Mark McMenamin when he looks at the fossils at Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in central Nevada. The geology professor at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts thinks an unusual ichthyosaur fossil formation there has a cause worthy of a sequel to “Sharknado.” “My heart goes out to those poor ichthyosaurs, diving down and then, oops,” says McMenamin. His theory: a giant cephalopod killed the ichthyosaurs and artfully arranged

i l l u s t r at i o n : a a r o n m c k i n n e y

By Andrew Kiraly

their spinal discs — which look a bit like octopus suckers — in a primal self-portrait. On Oct. 30, McMenamin officially presented his theory at the annual Geological Society of America conference in Denver, and he had a smoking gun. Well, make that a smoking fossil, in the form of what he is confident is a piece of a kraken’s beak. (McMenamin had no such evidence when he originally unveiled his kraken hypothesis in 2011 at the geology conference — to much skepticism and, in some cases, disdain. “I will admit to having a feeling like Dorothy coming back with the witch’s broom, actually having some fossil evidence,” he says.) But is the kraken theory an instance of bold theorizing or speculation masquerading as rigorous scientific thought? Since McMenamin released the kraken, so to speak, there’s been a spirited — and often heated — discussion among scientists about the purpose of imagination in science — and, improbably, the role of media hype. h av e a li ttle back b one To you or me, they look like muddy pancakes or Frisbees made of dirt. What are they? They’re the nine rows of fossilized vertebral discs of ichthyosaurs at Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. But that’s about as much as McMenamin and the rest of the paleontological world agree on. The conventional view of what happened here more than 200 million years ago is better suited to a National Geographic documentary than a SyFy monster mash-up. It proposes that the ichthyosaurs died together — maybe it was a mass stranding in a low tide, maybe a toxic plankton bloom poisoned them. Sea currents oriented their bodies as they sank to the bottom, where ammonites and mollusks nibbled the flesh off their bones. As the muscles and ligaments of the ichthyosaurs’ spines deteriorated, the vertebral discs toppled in a row like dominoes, perhaps nudged a bit by sea-bottom currents. “McMenamin’s theory isn’t entirely impossible,” says Thomas Holtz, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Maryland. “It’s slightly more realistic than saying the ichthyosaur bones were arranged by aliens. We already have theories that already explain the data that don’t rely on extraordinary claims.” Holtz points out that bones of mass strandings of dolphins and whales are similarly arranged. “An explanation doesn’t require the presence of an organism that we don’t have evidence for, doing something we don’t have any evidence that this organism would do.”

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Companion | December 2013

The fact that McMenamin’s kraken theory violates the principle of parsimony is one of the most frequently marshaled criticisms. The principle of parsimony holds that the simplest explanation is often the best. That’s what geosciences Professor David Fastovsky at the University of Rhode Island wrote in a sevenpoint rebuttal on behalf of the Paleontological Society in response to McMenamin’s presentation in Denver. McMenamin’s theory, while certainly imaginative, requires the existence of an exotic new creature to explain the pattern of the bones. “Good science is creative science, and the best scientists can be amazingly creative with their theories,” Fastovsky says. “But the next question should be whether the evidence supports it. This was a flash of creative insight, but it’s not particularly well-grounded in a reality we can relate to.” Undaunted by the storm of criticism, which he’s called “calumnious,” McMenamin stands by his kraken. He’s emboldened by another piece of evidence — a photo of fossils once on display at the former Marjorie Barrick Natural History Museum at UNLV, which show “strange constrictions” to the bones, convincing McMenamin that his kraken had a crushing grip. “The Berlin ichthyosaur pattern is highly unstable in terms of hydrodynamics,” McMenamin adds, arguing that there’s “no chance at all” that deepwater currents created the spine arrangements. Add to that a growing understanding of the unusual intelligence of modern octopi, and voila — a kraken doesn’t seem so far-fetched. “We’re still learning about the behavior and intelligence of wild octopi, and the more we learn, the weirder it seems,” says McMenamin. “They unscrew jars to get crabs, they use coconut shells as tools. For invertebrates, it’s extreme problem-solving behavior. The potential there (for an intelligent kraken) is extremely high.” Fastovsky concedes that we don’t have a full understanding of ancient sea current action, but that doesn’t warrant a theoretical leap to a kraken. “The possibility that currents are not the dominant force for moving bone elements in this deep, generally low-energy environment does not mean the alternative hypothesis must be an unknown and poorly defined mythological beast!” he writes in his Paleontological Society response. S how m e the b ea k But what about McMenamin’s smoking gun, the purported kraken beak fossil? It

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science hasn’t been independently confirmed as legitimate yet, though McMenamin says he’ll submit it to Patricia Weaver, a cephalopod fossil expert at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in coming weeks. However, beyond that is another whale-sized hurdle: a publication of his theory in a peer-reviewed academic journal. That won’t mean McMenamin’s theory is true, but it will mean that his peers think it has enough legs to deserve a hearing in serious scientific circles. Perhaps surprisingly, McMenamin isn’t so keen on the idea. He suspects his chorus of skeptics is more like a cabal of censors. “Peer review has gotten so political,” McMenamin says. “If a paper like this goes to an editor who’s not objective, it’ll get sent to people who’ll try to torpedo it under the guise of peer review.” It raises another question about the scientific process: If McMenamin’s fantastic theory hasn’t yet graduated to the scientific big leagues, how did it get such buzz? Because the standard for accepting a paper for presentation at the Geological Society of America con-

ference is dramatically lower than the standard for publication in a scientific journal. It’s not a shortcoming; it’s a feature of the spirit of scientific debate — a willingness to consider and argue over even outlandish ideas. “The GSA isn’t in the peer-review business,” says Donald Prothero, a professor of geology at Occidental College. “A review committee has to read thousands of abstracts and only rejects a small percentage of them. Unless they’re glaringly flawed or have formatting issues, they’re accepted. It’s not the job of the meeting (to screen theories) anyway. That happens down the line. Where science does its work is in the peer review process.” (Though these days, it also happens in the blogosphere. In his own takedown of the kraken theory on, Prothero blasts McMenamin as a “notorious crackpot paleontologist” whose theory is “laughably incompetent and ridiculous.”) However, the GSA also took the step of issuing a press release about McMenamin’s claim, giving it a cast of scientific endorsement that attracted serious media attention that, Prothero says, would have been better spent

on more serious developments that emerged from the conference. Still, Prothero says that such misfired hype is unavoidable in an age when scientists have to double as salespeople. “It’s a tug of war between scientists being humble and doing their jobs, versus the fact that we have to sell ourselves to the general public and impress them with our work because money is scarce.” Perhaps we won’t ever have a definitive answer to what happened to these ichthyosaurs more than 200 million years ago when Nevada was part of the Pacific Ocean. But a kraken? As much as even the most hard-bitten skeptics would like it to be true, those monster tentacles are too much of a reach. “To my knowledge, there’s a not a single other paleontologist on the planet who considers this reasonable evidence. It has as much bearing on the actual reality of the ancient planet as an episode of ‘Ancient Aliens’ on the History Channel has any bearing on real archeology,” says Holtz. “It’s just pseudoscience, which is a shame. Because krakens would be awesome.”


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Listen to Anthony Bondi Is Las andVegas othersgetting discussfatter? Burning Hear Man experts on KNPR’s weigh“State in on “KNPR’s State of ofNevada” Nevada”at atwww.desertcompanion/hearmore

department art

A man in parts In which we create a collage portrait of collage artist Anthony Bondi, whose work once captured — and helped define — the Vegas zeitgeist. What’s he been up to since?

r By scott dickensheets Photos Brent Holmes

Robert Hughes’ colossal art-history doorstop, The Shock of the New, tells us that collage, as a technique of high art, began with the Cubists early in the 20th century. It was their way of introducing bits of the real world into their work. From there it became a vital creative method, ideally suited to a century of unprecedented change, rupture and recombination. These days you can see a collage sensibility everywhere — from art galleries to DJ mashups to music videos. Now, zoom in on Las Vegas, where collage artist Anthony Bondi, subject of this story, has been cutting, pasting and recontextualizing for decades — not just images, but sculptures, even people. So we decided to collage him. L ET’ S MEET THE ARTIST! Begin with Bondi himself: thin, grizzled, gray and amiable as he lets me into his book-lined house in downtown’s Huntridge neighborhood. His most distinctive feature isn’t strictly physical, it’s the way he talks — imagine an off-kilter Jimmy Stewart, his speech recursive, shambling, pinging with imaginative caprice through a vast menu of topics: art history, say, or Fremont Street or cyberpunk culture. “Everyone does a Tony,” says his friend Ginger Bruner, doing an uncanny Bondi impression one November night at the bar Velveteen Rabbit. I eventually ask other people. They do Tonys, too. It really is a thing. Bondi made a local name for himself in the early ’90s with intricate collages (which

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Companion | December 2013

he made using what was then the latest medium, the color copier) that fused his love of Vegas history with a sure sense of its deeper postmodern meanings to capture something essential about those fast-morphing, growthwoozy times. With the rise of themed resorts, Vegas itself was becoming a collage, not only architecturally but culturally too. There were the stirrings of a coffeehouse culture, groundzeroed at Enigma Garden Cafe on Fourth Street (for which Bondi created a memorable series of fliers), and a sense that anyone with a creative project could find some traction. Art critic Gregory Crosby: “(Bondi’s work) was very much part of that whole DIY aesthetic that centered on Kinko’s, where you would find poets putting together chapbooks, punks turning out ’zines, bands creating fliers and artists like Bondi turning out gorgeous, ready-to-hang works of art. ...” Bondi’s stood alone, though. “Nobody

at the time,” Crosby says, “was creating collage work in Vegas on that scale, with that flair, or with that visual intensity.” Soon, the artist was organizing “Mr. Bondi’s Soundhouse,” multimedia happenings that collaged art, music, theater, video, people and free-range weirdness into a mix Bruner remembers, fondly, as “surrealism on the hoof.” But as the ’90s faded, so did his visibility. Now, after a long absence from local galleries, Bondi has resurfaced. His newest work, sexy and enigmatic photos shot in his pool, appeared this fall in the now defunct RTZ gallery. And a smallish but potent selection of his old collages hangs in Sin City Gallery through Dec. 23. INSI D E T HE “ IRON C U RTAIN ” WITH ANT HONY B OND I Tsss tsssss tsss … on the recording, it sounds like the rattling of a mildly irritated




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snake. In reality, it’s me moving through the mass of tiny chains comprising an installation Bondi calls “Iron Curtain.” At the moment, it’s installed — well, stored, really — in his backyard, which is raked by chilly breezes on this November afternoon. This is where I’ve come to ask, What has Bondi been doing for the last decade or so? This thing is part of the answer: making kinetic, interactive, whimsical sculptures for Burning Man. “Iron Curtain,” for instance. It’s a 20-foot rectangular frame densely hung with strands of metal beads. Bondi calls it a “tactile-immersion” something or other. You walk through it. No, you push: The chains engulf you, inhibit your movement, pull off your glasses and muffle Bondi, who’s slogging a few feet ahead and saying something about “… response to … environment … completely different …” The experience is disorienting in a fun way, and, indeed, it’s completely different from his collages — there’s no ruminative distance between art and viewer, no white-walled gallery hush. Burning Man is about interaction, which, for Bondi, made it a natural extension of his “Soundhouse” happenings. We emerge. “If you don’t walk through this,” Bondi says, “it doesn’t have any meaning. The look of it doesn’t convey what it’s about.” The experience is the art. A L ESSON IN H OW MEANIN G IS CONSTRU C TED Sin City Gallery owner Laura Henkel saunters up to a collage titled “Touchdown,” part of Neon Metropolis, her show of Bondi’s work. An image of diver Greg Louganis in middive has been pasted over a photo of the long, vertiginous face of Hoover Dam. To Henkel, it’s a comment on the sexiness of perfected

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Companion | December 2013

The old collage try: Anthony Bondi, left, poses amid his “Iron Curtain.” Above, his 1994 collage “Tourist Zone”; opposite, “Touchdown.”

form, whether it’s a human body or large-scale engineering. But a man who attended the gallery opening was reminded of the bodies of suicidal jumpers that his father — a longtime coroner, apparently — had to remove from the dam’s base. They were pulped corpses, the opposite of Louganisy perfection. Taken aback by that dark reading, Henkel says she called Bondi over: You’ll never believe what this guy says about your work … “Yeah,” Bondi told her after the guy explained, “that’s exactly what it’s about.” Now, weeks later, Henkel throws herself protectively over the image. “No! Leave me my unicorns and glitter!” TIME OU T F OR A WEIR D B UT INSI GHTF U L METAPHOR AB OUT ANT HON Y BON D I’S B RAIN “I think his mind works on a number of levels,” Bruner says. Citing The Fantastic Voyage, she thinks it would be fun to shrink to molecular size and be injected into his brain, just to see what it looks like. “I imagine it being a

weird castle, with a lot of rooms and different stuff happening at the same time — and every now and then, all the doors open and everyone comes out and it all mixes up.” OKAY, B AC K TO T HE G A L L ERY Take a close look at “Tourist Zone,” a 1994 piece hanging in Sin City. Under a skyful of classic neon, people — some in suits, others naked — mill around walls and portals of a vaguely Eastern architecture. It’s Bondi’s witty way of asking, in an environment (like the Strip) where themed architecture cues your temporary identity, what are you when you’re between resorts? Generic? Naked? (It was a particularly compelling question at the time.) It’s also visually rich. “You actually kind of want to go into the piece,” Henkel observes, her statement resonating with the impulse that would eventually see Bondi set aside these collages for Burning Man. Other pieces — one titled “Neon Museum,” another that paired an image of Venice with the Stardust sign years before the Venetian was built — seem prescient in hindsight. “Their visionary aspect just blew me away,” Henkel says. A few minutes later, she indicates “Touchdown” again. “Unicorns and glitter!” she insists. YOU KNOW WH AT ’ S G REAT AB OUT HAV ING A B AC KYARD? Space! When you create oversize whirlygigs of art, you need room to build, to lay everything out. But that’s front-end think- | 31

art ing. What about the back end? “What happens is, the old projects start taking up ever more space,” Bondi says. His patio and yard are crammed with elements from some 13 years of Burning Man projects — a spinning wheel of feather dusters here, a dead robot there, a dismembered merry-go-round. It’s like a museum of discarded whimsy. He notes the sole empty spot on his porch. “That’s all I got left. If I put some old piece there, I’m outta luck for a new piece. I’m pretty much filled up.” That wasn’t a problem this year; he skipped Burning Man to stay with his ailing mother. PRESS CLIPS F OR N EO N ME TR O P OLIS •“Brimming with Las Vegas charisma and neon artifacts, this collection of images captures a pivotal moment in local history conveyed by an artist deeply connected with a city and time he was living in.” — Jenessa Kenway, CityLife • “Bondi turns cliché Vegas into elegant and thoughtful visual compositions with layers of depth.” — Kristen Peterson, Las Vegas Weekly

Something old, something older: Bondi keeps his inspirations and memories close — fliers from the long-defunct Enigma Cafe and issues of Scope, a long-ago culture magazine.

IN THE BEG INNIN G His first collage was 1989’s “Fission Convention,” showing a nuclear cloud billowing just beyond the old Convention Center. He had no intention of making another, he just wanted to see what mischief he could make using the stunning new technology of the color copier. But even as he worked on it, he knew his artwork — until then confined to the blackand-white drawings he’d been doing since childhood — would change. The potential to manipulate images, any image he could copy, lit


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32 | Desert

Companion | December 2013

him up. “I was waiting tables,” he recalls, “and of course I didn’t have any money, but I gave every penny I had to Kinko’s in one day, then I’d go make some more tips and come back tomorrow and shovel more money at ’em,” sinking $50, $100 into each picture. “Obviously my life changed. I could feel it changing. It was a wonderful moment.” An aside: He never used Photoshop on the collages. A Q U I C K ANEC D OTE Local writer Geoff Carter: “In the summer of 1995, a friend of mind from Los Angeles came to visit, and I took him to see a Bondi show at some gallery or another. Earlier that day, my friend had won $300 playing the slots ... and he handed every penny of it over to Bondi for one of his prints. That’s my enduring impression of Tony. Somehow, and probably despite himself, he lends balance to this town.” Carter does a world-class Tony, by the way. IN WH I C H WE U SE T HE P H RASE “ T H E J I G G I L ATOR ” Collage sensibility is all about reuse and recontextualizing, and Bondi’s pool, of all places, is a study in this. At one end, he’s fashioned various hoses, nets and other bits of freakishness from old Burning Man projects into a backdrop for the photos he’s working on these days. He points to a stand of whiffle balls. “That was part of ‘The Jiggilator,’” he says. (What’s “The Jiggilator”? See for yourself: He points at a batch of plastic reptiles. “As a Burning Man project, that screen of snakes was a failure. But it’s had a great life since Burning Man.” The photos, nudes enmeshed in this exotic collage, link conceptually to Vegas production shows. He’s intrigued by the interplay of blatant artifice and the fleshily real. “The artificiality that was always an element within Vegas shows sat adjacent to, ‘My god, she’s got bare breasts!’” Shown this fall, the pictures got mixed reviews. “Lackluster compositions,” CityLife judged.

art A NOT NECESSARILY COMPL ETE L IST OF J OBS ANTHONY B ONDI H AS HAD Crop picker, movie theater doorman, furniture mover, liquor stock clerk, liquor delivery driver, office gopher, busboy, waiter, keno writer, keno accountant, janitor, linen washer, art gallery attendant, stock market investor. This list depresses him, and it shouldn’t be

read as a resume of subsistence jobs he’s taken in order to devote himself to art, though he did devote himself to art. He never found a sustainable career, and has often found himself flat broke. “This might be picaresque from a distance,” he says of his wide-ranging resume, “but close-up it was no fun.” He inherited some money a while back, but that’s gone; he earns a few dollars from a toy patent he came up with. So making the leap from relative pov-

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erty to full-time artist wasn’t that hard, he says. He’s getting by on intermittent commissions, some sales and hope. A Q U OTE A B O U T ART, MONEY AN D B U RNING MAN “The Merry Go Down — I would guess I have about 15 grand into projects like that. They were my primary focus for many years. That would be my annual expense for art.” IN ANT HONY B OND I ’ S GARAGE Remember “Iron Curtain”? In Bondi’s garage is a smaller version, recast in tube form for smaller participants. “It turned out that children really liked it,” he says. “So maybe it wasn’t a piece of art, maybe it’s a toy.” Or both? “Or both.” He hopes eventually to turn it into a line of playground equipment. SAD T H ING S ANT H ONY B ON DI H AS TOL D ME “I never became a painter. I just drew, pencils and pens, black and white. So the world said, ‘Too bad, Tone, you don’t do color, you suck.’ But these are beautiful drawings! ‘We don’t care.’” “I had every hope and expectation that doing this work would lead to a commercial art career. Well, that didn’t work out.” “Here is my employment history in a snapshot: I’m on a bus on my way to sell some blood. I find myself quoted on the front page of the Sunday RJ making some pithy comment about something. My need to go sell some blood remains the same.” (Circa 1997, he says.) RAN D OM Q U OTE T HAT DI DN ’ T F IT E L SEWHERE “Anthony Bondi is my favorite Las Vegan,” says local writer Matt Kelemen. “The fact that he built a water fountain in front of his house for all the neighborhood to use” — which is true, it’s right there, next to the sidewalk — “says it all.” Well, maybe not all, but quite a bit.

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E V ERYONE D O A B OND I ! From somewhere in the bowels of YouTube, Bondi sends me a link to a video of uncertain vintage — late ’90s from the looks of it — titled “Do Your Bondi.” In it, several people from Bondi’s old demimonde take turns imitating him. “That video made me feel great,” he says. People still imitate you, I tell him. “Really?” He pauses. “I didn’t know they were still doing it. That makes my day!”


Learn about the U.S. Ismilitary’s Las Vegas great getting camel fatter? experiment Hear experts on “KNPR’s weigh State in on “KNPR’s State of ofNevada” Nevada”at atwww.desertcompanion/hearmore

department history

Hump days


The West’s great camel experiment sought to bring Mother Nature’s irritable, spitting, cactus-eating off-road vehicle to the mines and mountains of Nevada

The great desert of the West beckoned explorers, exploiters and settlers throughout the 19th century. They wanted to do things to the land: map it, mine it, build homes and businesses on it. But how do you spread civilization over unforgiving terrain without the benefit of decent roads? In the 1850s, the U.S. government decided to experiment with camels in the West. It made sense. Camels are desert animals. Their stamina is legendary. Their phenomenal ability to carry loads had been widely described, and they already had their proponents in the American government. From 1855 to 1864, Western entrepreneurs and even the U.S. military undertook what might be called the Great Camel Experiment of the West. The possible value of camels in the West was outlined in a lecture by George Marsh at the Smithsonian Institution in 1854. Marsh stressed the value of the camel in transportation. He said, “(T)he ordinary day’s journey of the loaded Bactrian camel (is) forty miles, and without burden at from fifty to sixty-five miles; and my correspondents in Bessarabia and the Crimea agree in stating that upon a good dry road a pair of Bactrians will draw a load of 3,000 to 4,000 pounds a distance of fifty miles without eating, drinking, or halting.” In other words, lean, mean walking machines. Given such accounts, camels caught the imagination of entrepreneurs in the West as well. Otto Esche, a San Francisco merchant and importer, saw an opportunity in the humped beasts. He knew the need for salt as a refining agent in gold mining. A camel could carry significantly more than a mule, about

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1,000 pounds vs. 400 pounds. It could forage on desert plants no other animal would eat, and could go long periods without water. With freight costs running $120 per pound, Esche saw an opportunity. He left for the Orient in 1860. His trip was long, but upon arrival in Siberia, he started overland to buy camels. He was able to buy 32, of which 15 survived the trip to the Siberian coast, to be loaded on the ship Caroline E. Foote for transport to San Francisco. These Bactrian camels were then shipped back to San Francisco, as Esche went back out to buy more. The trip over the Pacific was not easy, but all 15 survived to be off-loaded in San Francisco in July 1860. After their arrival, they were corralled near Mission Dolores to regain their strength. Cam-

els were quite a sight in 1860 San Francisco, and crowds — attracted by advertisements that appeared as far south as Los Angeles — turned out Oct. 10 for a showing and auction of 13 Bactrian camels. But the curious spectators didn’t open their wallets: Sales were disappointing, and prices led the auctioneers to stop the auction early. The two camels that actually sold brought less than $500 each, well under their cost. Meet the herd Undeterred, Esche continued his buying in the East, and eventually put together a herd of 60. He hired some camel drivers to handle and care for the animals, and contracted with two ships, the Caroline E. Foote again and the Dollart, to take them to San Francisco. Captain Worth of the Caroline E. Foote again

c a m e l t r a i n i l l u s t r at i o n f r o m 1 8 7 7 h a r p e r ’ s w e e k ly c o u r t e s y h a l l - pat to n c o l l e c t i o n

By Mark Hall-Patton

successfully brought his 10 camels to San Francisco. Captain Muggenborg was not so successful, and 24 of his 44 camels died in the crossing. This meant a considerable financial loss for Esche and his partners. Esche sued Captain Muggenborg and won a settlement of $260 for each camel lost, a total of $6,240. Esche still had a considerable investment in camels in California. While he was at sea, one of his partners, Julius Bandmann, took nine camels to Virginia City and the Washoe Mines in Nevada. Taking the Big Trees route over Ebbetts Pass, the caravan showed that the Bactrians could make the trek over the 8,730-foot pass. Bandmann began shipping salt from the Columbus Salt Marsh in west-central Nevada to Virginia City, making a profit of more than $200 on each trip. Bandmann then sold the camels he had and returned to San Francisco. There he found 10 more waiting for him, and began to get them into shape for use, eventually incorporating the surviving 20 from the Dollart as well. Esche, who had also been injured during the voyage on the Dollart, was happy with the $2,000 Bandmann had from the sale of the first nine camels. Bandmann became the man to know to get camels in San Francisco. John Callbreath, who worked for Frank Laumeister in Victoria, British Columbia, eventually bought 23 of the 30. These camels were transported to Canada and used in an express company headed by Laumeister. After the sale, Esche faded from the scene. Laumeister’s camels were used in the British Columbia’s Fraser River mines from 1862 until 1865. After that, many of them were moved to the territories of Montana, Idaho and Washington, where Laumeister ran his Dromedary Express until 1867, when they were moved to Nevada and let loose to fend for themselves.

area. A March 14, 1863 article in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise read:

Camels on the loose One of the reasons camels were useful was their ability to thrive on plants no other pack animal would eat. When the first government camels were offloaded in Texas, a lack of wood forced the building of a cactus corral, which the camels proceeded to eat. Because of this ability, as camel ventures were dissolved, the animals were let loose in the desert to fend for themselves. The camels found this to their liking and slowly multiplied, becoming a known sight to prospectors and others who frequented the deserts. The original nine camels sold by Bandmann in Virginia City continued to haul supplies in Nevada. As early as 1863, they were bringing salt into the mines in the Walker River

The Senate devoted a large portion of the morning session to a little fun over the Assembly bill to prohibit camels from traveling public roads and highways in this state. A motion was made for its reference to the Committee on Public Morals, to which an amendment was offered that it be to the Committee on Indian Affairs. A discussion ensued, in which some jokes were cracked about humps in general, and, finally a substitute that the bill be referred to the Lyon and Churchill delegation.

THE CAMELS: The ‘ships of the desert’ just arrived from the Walker River marshes, with a cargo of salt for the Central Mill, held a levee in this place and were visited by many curious and wondering bipeds. The venerable patriarch of the band did not seem to relish much the close attention of his visitors, and gave vent to his indignation and contempt by spitting at all who ventured near him. A coquettish old female who reclined at full length on the ground, screamed pettishly when some forward youngster attempted to toy with her shaggy locks. Other newspaper accounts often noted their ability to carry huge loads and their effect on other animals. Camels were said to scare horses and mules. They smelled bad, and had a tendency to force others off of public roads. Men who worked with camels claimed that camels were not the problem, but they did have a bad reputation. By the 1870s, Frank Laumeister was running camels into Elko and as far south as Pioche. In 1872, he led a train south through what was then Lincoln County, to Alamo and then along the Old Spanish Trail past the Las Vegas Ranch, where he headed south. There were opportunities in the Arizona mines, and he was ready to take advantage of them. Laumeister’s were not the only camels in Nevada. Two Frenchmen, brothers named Chevalier, had rounded up 30 camels and ran their own caravans. Between the two groups, the effect of camels on teamster-led pack animals were well-known — and not liked. In fact, by 1875, the Nevada State Legislature took on the thorny problem. A letter in the Feb. 4, 1875 Reece River Reveille read:

In spite of the revelry noted in the letter, the following law was passed on Feb. 9, 1875: An act to prohibit camels and dromedaries from running at large on or about the public

Hear the precious sounds of the All of us at Desert Valley Audiology want to wish you and your family a wonderful Holiday Season. We want to express our gratitude to our many valued patients who have made this a great year. If your hearing is not letting you capture the precious sounds of the holidays, please let us help. Call (702) 605-9133 today to schedule a hearing screening and evaluation.

Tim Hunsaker, Au.D. Doctor of Audiology

Las Vegas 501 S. Rancho Drive, Suite A6 Las Vegas, Nevada 89106

Henderson 1701 N. Green Valley Parkway Building 8, Suite B Henderson, Nevada 89074

702-605-9133 phone 702-678-6159 fax | 37


highways of the State of Nevada. The People of Nevada represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows: Section 1. From and after the passage of this Act it shall be unlawful for the owner or owners of any camel or camels, dromedary or dromedaries, to permit them to run at large on or about the public roads or highways of this State. Section 2. If any owner or owners of any camel or camels, dromedary or dromedaries, shall, knowingly or willfully permit any violation of this Act, he or they shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be arrested, on complaint of any person feeling aggrieved; and when convicted, before any Justice of the Peace, he or they shall be punished by a fine of not less than twenty-five (25) or more than one hundred (100) dollars, or by imprisonment of not less than ten or more than thirty days, or by both such fine and imprisonment. Nevada’s roads were now safe from camels. The law was first used in September 1875,

against a caravan in Dayton. In a tongue-incheek account in the Reece River Reveille, a reporter wrote: “Nothing is safe from these voracious critters, as they will bolt down a Murphy wagon, four rods of rail fence, a Yankee stone boat or anything else at a single meal. As pack animals for use across a desert waste they can’t be beat, but when it comes to a bump of destructiveness they have one as big as a Brooklyn preacher.” End of the hump The 1870s were both the heyday of camel use in Nevada, and the end. By the close of the decade, caravans were leaving for Arizona and Mexico for use in the mines there, and camel express firms were no more. However, as late as 1905, there were still camels in Nevada. That year, a notice in the Goldfield News stated that other newspapers were reporting that another camel express firm might be formed. The news thought this unlikely, noting the report “… probably originated in the

fertile imagination of a ‘space filler.’” The last reported sighting of a camel herd in Nevada was in 1905, when some prospectors stumbled on a herd of 16 near Silver Bow. Why did they disappear? Of those not shipped out of state, many were captured and sold to circuses and zoos throughout the United States. In fact, the last of the governmentimported camels died at the Griffith Park Zoo in Los Angeles in 1934. Others probably died of old age or were killed by teamsters, but it seems their ultimate demise can be traced to the fact that both whites and certain Indian tribes found them edible. As to the last of the many camels brought to the United States by Otto Esche or the Texas civilian importations, who can say? Though there were rumors of sightings as late as the 1940s, it is likely they are all gone today, having been eaten, shot, captured or perhaps just dead of old age. However, after a few libations, who knows what someone might see in the wee hours of the morning?

What is the Mojave Max Emergence Contest? Mojave Max is a real live tortoise that lives at Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area. Every fall when the hot Las Vegas weather cools off, Max goes into his burrow to begin brumation, (this is how Max hibernates), and he emerges in the spring. The person who guesses as closely as possible to the correct day, hour, and minute when Max will emerge from his burrow wins!

Who Can Enter the Contest? Anyone in the world can enter, but only one lucky winner from Clark County, Nevada in grades K-12 who are enrolled in public, private and registered home schools are eligible to win all kinds of great prizes. Go to and click on the “contest” button to see a complete list of the Mojave Max Emergence Contest Rules.

What are the Prizes? The grand prize winner and his or her class will receive T-shirts and a pizza party and field trip to Red Rock Canyon. The winner also receives a laptop computer, a digital camera, and a year-long pass to federally managed fee areas. The winner’s teacher will also receive a laptop computer!



Brought to you by: Clark County Desert Conservation Program, Clark County School District, Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association and U. S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 38 | Desert

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News Reviews Interviews o n t h e p l at e e at t h i s n o w

Squid pro quo: The Squid-E-O's at Rx Boiler Room aren't for suckers.


The dish

A new respect for casual dining


on the plate

December’s dining events


eat this now

A short stack of decadent nom-nom

the dish

Party in the back

The casual food trend is lively, playful, sometimes even silly — but also more sophisticated than you think By Brock Radke | Photography SABIN ORR

There are snobby gourmands — maybe you know one or two — who lament the trend of casual cuisine starting to eclipse fine dining. It’s happening up and down the Las Vegas Strip, where even the most famous, most fancy chefs and restaurateurs are crafting bar food or burgers for hungry customers who’ve decided they don’t want to spend

hundreds of dollars on one meal. This is a good thing. Not only does it bring Strip dining prices a little closer to earth, this movement also is resulting in some of the most deliciously fun food we’ve seen in some time. It’s all about approachability, and here are five casual dishes you’ll want to cozy up with as soon as possible. | 41


Fish & Crisp

at Gordon Ramsay BurGR

Salty, vinegary potato crisps, also known as tiny sticks of savory joy

Is it fish and chips on a bun? Is it a twisted lobster roll? How will you get it into your face?

Buttery, toasted sesame bun, a hybrid of so many different sandwich foundations

Planet Hollywood, 785-5555

Tartar sauce made with fresh dill to get your senses jumping

Ale-battered cod, moist and dense with a light crisp and a bit of malty flavor

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Companion | DECEMBER 2013

Garlic toast points, in case you missed some sauce


at Rx Boiler Room Just like Chef Boyardee except no can, the noodles are squid and the meatballs are the best you’ve ever had.

Mandalay Place 632-7200

Tender, ridiculously fun California calamari rings

Cherry tomatoes for a sweet, fresh kick

Spicy, moist meatballs made from merguez lamb sausage Tomato and squid ink sauce, just to keep it real | 43


Spicy Scarpariello chicken wings

Extra bright kick from lemon juice, crushed red pepper and cayenne pepper

Thick, creamy blue cheese dressing to smooth things over with a slight tang

at Carmine’s

Meet the new king of family-pleasing Italian restaurants, the masters of mangia.

Forum Shops at Caesars, 473-9700

Crunchy-cool jicama provides a light, sweet, crisp refuge Sticky, sweet, spicy glaze made mostly of butter, white wine and Tabasco

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Juicy bird wings marinated in garlic, rosemary and oregano before being deep-fried until crispy

Peanut Butter Crunch Burger

Thick, puffy cloud masquerading as bun

at Pub 1842

Weird has never been this good. You see it on the menu and know you need it. Why fight yourself?

MGM Grand, 891-3922

Savory bacon jam for comprehensive umamification

Perfectly charred beef disc

Creamy peanut butter, at first odd but then totally beef-friendly

The nostalgic tang that can only be ... yes, pimento cheese

The crunchy salt-blast of potato chips reminds you why you squished them into sandwiches as a kid | 45


House-made garlic sausage

at Five50 Pizza Bar

Fresh herb and fat-speckled pork sausage with impressive grill char-marks

Grilled bread slabs, for soaking up juicy deliciousness missed by your fork

Feel free to get a pizza, too, but don’t miss this flavor-packed meat tube.

Aria, 590-7550

Creamy, almost grit-like polenta with cheese

Vaguely Basque piperade, robust sweet pepper relish

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W E LC O M E O U R T EN A N T S Fashion 702DTLV American Vagabond Bettie Page Intimates Boutiqueaholics Crazy Legs Gaby & Olivia Jessica Galindo LVCK Red Stitch Winky Designs Art Galleries Blackbird Studios Disney Fine Arts The High Points Lil’ Art Bodega

Food and Beverage Big Ern’s BBQ Bin 702 The Boozery Pinches Tacos Pork & Beans Small Eateries CupKates ChillSpot Las Vegas Kettle Corn Simply Pure Sweet Spot

Specialty Bolt Barbers CatalystCreativ Jojo’s Jerky Hair & Nail Salon The Mob Museum The Neon Museum Qualifyor Corp Trikke Las Vegas The Vapor Loft Wellthily Home Decor Alios Art Box BluMarble Fresh Wata IPME

Shop. Play. Discover. Nom. Nom. Nom.

Opening in December. 7th & Fremont



December's dining events you don’t want to miss La Cucina Italiana Food and wine festival

eNTer To WiN A SeAT AT THe DiNiNg eveNT of THe yeAr

dec. 5-8. This long weekend celebrating Italian culture and cuisine features four days of colorful events and culinary experiences, including a landmark collaboration between some of the best Italian chefs and culinary celebrities, including Chef Mario Batali, Dario Cecchini, Chef Wolfgang Puck, Buddy “Cake Boss” Valastro, Roberto Caporuscio, Anthony Giglio and Robin Leach. Events include “The Grand Banquet” done Tuscan-style, as well as Italian cooking demonstrations, including courses on how to make pizza and mozzarella. $50-$500. At the Venetian hotel-casino, 414-9000

las vegan eatz dinner club

Get the VIP Experience at the Desert Companion Restaurant Awards Luncheon hosted by Chef Rick Moonen’s Rx Boiler Room on

December 11 at 11:30am

Enter to win today at Join the Desert Companion team, fellow readers and Las Vegas’ brightest culinary talents as we celebrate and honor the Desert Companion Restaurant Award recipients.

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Companion | DECEMBER 2013

dec. 7. At this holiday gathering at Panevino, guests will enjoy a five-course vegan meal that will include lemongrass soup with lemon spaetzles; grilled vegetable lasagna with layers of grilled eggplant, zucchini, squash, roasted tomatoes, roasted bell peppers and mushrooms in a creamy vodka-tomato sauce; spinach "ricotta" ravioli; organic "meatloaf" with garlic mashed potatoes; and organic apple and peach strudel drizzled with vanilla creme anglaise. $63. Panevino Ristorante, 475-0477

the best of silver state restaurants and lounges awards dec. 13. This event celebrates and honors the best industry chefs, operators, restaurants and nightclub/bars in Nevada in 17 categories. Proceeds from the event benefit the Nevada Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s education and scholarship programs, including ProStart, a national high school culinary and restaurant management curriculum. Celebrity Chef Emeril Lagasse will be a special awards presenter. Dayna Roselli, Nina Radetich and Robin Leach will emcee the event. More than 300 prominent Nevadans, including restaurant, nightlife and industry leaders, will honor the nominees and winners in the food and beverage industry. $40. In the Sands showroom at the Venetian, 5:30-8p

eat this now! Our favorite recent dishes that have us coming back for seconds

Do you have an IRS TaX PRoBLeM? DIVORCED? SEPARATED? WIDOWED? BAD MARRIAGE? IRS may owe you! Richard A. Perlman, Enrolled Agent Licensed by Department of the Treasury 30-yeaR CaReeR WITh The IRS


PB&J pancakes at LAVO

Do not be frightened by the lithe she-creatures in club heels frequently tottering in front of LAVO; there is food inside, and it is good. The restaurant/club hybrid recently began flirting with something it calls “Proper Brunch” on Sunday. Proper, yes — but not boring. Now, they may push their signature Kobe meatball, which is perfectly acceptable, but save room for something that playfully punctures the restaurant’s foodie pretensions while also realizing its aspirations: the PB&J pancakes. You may be expecting some cutesy, candified mouthbomb. Instead, you get a surprising sketch in restrained whimsy: Spongy pancakes speckled with Reese’s Pieces (but, crucially, not too many), layered with smears of all-natural peanut butter, and topped with whipped mascarpone and powdered sugar. The pancakes absorb all this — and the drizzle of strawberry jam — and transubstantiate into a sort of Platonic columnar expression of a PB&J sandwich. Brunch has been properly broken. — Andrew Kiraly

LAVO inside the Palazzo, 791-1800,

Breakfast burrito at Carlito’s

Pleasurable eating is so often depicted as an aesthetic experience — an interplay of flavors, textures, cultural allusions and memory triggers — that you can overlook the deep, almost biological satisfaction of simply filling your mouth with life-sustaining basics. Like this. It could hardly be more fundamental: a tortilla wrapped around eggs, cheese, sausage and crispy bacon, ladled with a green sauce calibrated to an enjoyable tongue-scorch. Nothing fancy, yet all the more wonderful because of that. While lots of places offer breakfast burritos, many quite delicious, somehow Carlito’s come closest to being an interplay of flavors, textures, cultural allusions and memory triggers. And, if you’re of a certain political stripe, your digestion will be aided by the gastric acid unleashed by the incessant Fox News playing on the TV. — Scott Dickensheets


Table 34 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 and Warm Springs. Dinner Tuesday - Saturday 5pm until closing (around 10pm) 600 E. Warm Springs Road Las Vegas, NV (702) 263-0034 | 49


17annual th

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

u r a a t s nt e R awards

The post-bubble economy may have inspired a new embrace of comfort food and casual fare but, thankfully, some chefs realized that not all of us need a celebrity-branded gourmet burger to heal our souls. Come on: Thrill us! They did. How do you sum up a year that brought us steampunk restaurants, remixed steakhouses and Asian flavors to challenge adventurous palates? It feels like 2013 was the year when restaurants on and off the Strip started pushing the limits again — whether it was with whimsical ideas, classic concepts refreshed or all the different things you can do with squid. Variety, as ever, remains the spice of life — and it’s a key ingredient in our

2013 Restaurant Awards. | 51

Bartender of theyear

Kevin Gorham Downtown Cocktail Room

This studious young expert has a thirst for cocktail perfection — and, yes, he knows the story behind your favorite drink So, how do you become a great

bartender? Sure, you can bone up on the Mr. Boston guide, get your TAM card and a gig next to the beer taps but, really, there’s no set curriculum that will turn you into an expert. Kevin Gorham got there by “doing everything else you can do in a restaurant” before he began barbacking at Downtown Cocktail Room — and there found his calling. “I read everything I could about the craft of the cocktail,” he says. “I’d memorize recipes and how each ingredient blended. I tasted and mixed everything behind the bar multiple times.” He practiced on his own time and shadowed the full-time bartenders, developing a vast knowledge of liquors — not just their tastes, but the stories behind them. He can make a vintage-New Orleans Ramos Gin Fizz that will knock your proverbial socks off, rattling the shaker for several minutes

52 | Desert

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while telling you about the legendary saloon that had a dozen bartenders whose sole job was to pass and shake a shiny carafe of gin fizzes. He can also throw together an exotic invention at a moment’s notice, as one flavor leads to another. “It was busy and we had just gotten in Zucca — it’s an Italian liqueur made out of Chinese rhubarb,” he recalls of

one such creation. “I added a little splash of Scotch to pair with the woodiness, a little Campari for citrus but not too much, bitters …” Not that it’s simply alchemy. A good bartender also knows your name, your drink, notices that you got your hair cut and orders you chicken fingers from the pizzeria around the corner. Jeremy Merritt, now director of beverage and training at Future Restaurant Group, feels that Gorham can maintain the Downtown Cocktail Room tradition from both angles. “He can create to the individual palate, he’s got a diverse knowledge of flavor and mixability ... also, patience behind the stick with all customers and situations.” That means quizzing new customers to find them the perfect drink as well as knowing just how a regular likes her usual — and always being on the lookout for a new way to mix. “There are no limits,” Gorham says, “if you know how they blend together.” — Lissa Townsend Rodgers 111 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 880-3696,

K e v i n G o r h a m : C h r i s to p h e r S m i t h ; V e lv e t e e n r a b b i t: J a c o b m c C a r t h y

Causing a stir: Kevin Gorham

Cocktail bar of theyear

Velveteen Rabbit How did this Arts District bar become so beloved? Graceful, dazzling, lovingly precise cocktails Some cocktail lounges shift

focus to the wrong end of the equation — all atmosphere and clientele and vibe, with a few fancy bevvies to keep the shakers shiny. But at Velveteen Rabbit, the cocktails are front and center, discovered, perfected and finally spotlit like MGM starlets. The bartenders have a graceful touch with the classics — a gimlet is expertly balanced, icy-cold and served in a stainless steel coupe that maintains the chill and adds a fillip of Holy Grail glamour. But Velveteen Rabbit truly dazzles with its house cocktails, a seasonal menu of exotic libations unlike what you’ll find anywhere else — from the served-in-ateacup Moon Shine to the Mezcal-andRye Spaceship to the now-legendary whiskey/Bukowski homage, Crucifix in a Deathhand. Velveteen Rabbit is less than a year old, but is already a well-loved mainstay

of Downtown and its denizens. “We’ve been so well-received. People are excited to come here, they’re excited when they see we have a new menu,” says Pamela Dylag, who co-owns and runs the bar with her sister, Christina. Their success came as a bit of a surprise. “We didn’t expect it. The day before we opened, I was having a nervous breakdown: Are people gonna like this?” They certainly do, and the Rabbit draws regulars who live and work in the neighborhood, as well as visitors from Henderson, Summerlin and far further environs. Even during a weekend rush, the cocktails are always made to exacting standards, regardless of earthly pressures. “It’s about consistency,” Dylag says. “We do the recipes over and over, we measure everything, even the small stuff. ... Then muscle memory kicks in.” A clientele that comes for the exaltation and the exhilaration of the cocktail gets that Benedictine honey syrup and curry bitters involve more care than a blue daiquiri from a hose. “It can get three people deep,” she says, “but people are patient. They understand that it takes a little more time to make our drinks.” — Lissa Townsend Rodgers

Where I eat “With three kids, we mostly eat in the neighborhood and of the moment. Being spontaneous seems to be our best bet. I’m often at Mastrioni’s. You would think, as a chef, I’d try everything on the menu but I go for my favorites. Clams on the half shell, really well-caramelized with drawn butter. My kids love the marinara sauce, and you can really taste the not-fully-cookedoff garlic, and then I get the chicken Francese. Every time.”

Megan Romano chef/owner, Chocolate & Spice

1218 S. Main St., 685-9645

Plush life: Velveteen Rabbit | 53

Tucked away in the

DEALicious Meal of theyear Where I drink “When I go out it’s usually to Office Bar, probably nine times out of 10. It’s walking distance from my house, and it’s the place where I kind of hatched the idea for our second pizzeria. What do I order? I’m pretty simple, vodka soda with lemon. Maybe if the crew is out we’ll do some shots.”

Shrimp toast and Grandma’s pot stickers at Fat Choy

Two appetizers we heartily encourage you to fill up on

Chris Palmeri chef/owner, Naked City Pizza and Desnudo Tacos

Eureka Casino, Sheridan Su’s Fat Choy is a bastion of DEALicous dining (see what we did there?). While the whole menu is reasonably priced for sizable portions, my favorites are a pair of appetizers you can make a meal out of: Grandma’s pot stickers and shrimp toast. Fat Choy’s Grandma’s pot stickers ($6) are the valley’s best gyoza; with daily housemade wrappers pan-seared to a point of crispness, crunchy outer shells give way to a moist pork-and-chive filling. Accompanied by an addictive chile and shallot soy dipping sauce, every meal should include some of Grandma’s love. No less artful and addictive is the shrimp toast ($8). The dish combines lap cheong (Chinese sausage), minced shrimp, a drizzle of Sriracha mayo and a fried egg atop a piece of white toast in a nod to a traditional East Coast dish certainly worth scheduling around. — Jim Begley

Bacon. Make fun of it if you like, snobby eater, call it a trendy, over-used ingredient ... but you know you love it. We all do. And we never at Ogden’s Hops & Harvest really get sick of tasting new takes. It comes as no surprise Over bacon? Twists like this that when truly great chefs prove that the porcine delight — Bradley and Bryan Ogden has plenty of mileage left — apply their refined culinary approach to bar-friendly comfort food, something great happens. Apply it to bacon, and you have these addictive, crunchy-fatty morsels, sweet and slightly spicy with a barelythere Chinese barbecue influence. When this dish launched, the brilliant bacon bites were served with a decadent beer-cheese sauce for dipping. The accompaniment has evolved into blue cheese and shaved celery, quite the lighter touch. It’s an advantage, really, because now you can feel better about having a second order. — Brock Radke In Tivoli Village, 450 S. Rampart Blvd. #120, 476-3964,

Appetizer of the year

Pork belly bites

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C h r i s Pa l m e R i : B r e n t H o l m e s ; S h r i m p to a s t a n d G r a n d m a ' s P ot s t i ck e r s , B l a ck C o d w i t h m i s o , B u tt e r Sc otc h a n d b a c o n p ot d e c r È m e : S a b i n O r r ; P o r k B e l ly B i t e s : C h r i s to p h e r S m i t h

In the Eureka Casino, 595 E. Sahara Ave., 794-3464,

Signature dish

of theYear

Black cod with miso at Nobu

Many restaurants have copied this iconic dish, but the original is still the best Twenty years after the first Nobu opened in New York, it’s easy to forget what a huge influence it had on Japanese cuisine. In fact, many of the restaurant’s signature dishes have been copied so frequently, many forget where they originated. With the opening of the new Nobu hotel tower at Caesars Palace — which hosts the largest Nobu restaurant in the world — it’s a perfect time to go back and rediscover the classics. There’s no better place to start than with the black cod with miso. The chef marinates a thick slice of this rich, succulent fish in sake, miso paste and sugar overnight before cooking it in a brick oven. The result is a silky-smooth, slightly sweet treat. Despite all of the imitations available across the country, none compares to the original. — Al Mancini In Caesars Palace, 785-6628

Dessertof theYear

Butterscotch and bacon pot de crème with chocolate-dipped bacon at Comme Ça

Judicious use of that magic ingredient (hint: oink!) makes for a surprisingly complex dish While the bacon craze has arguably gone the way of Arthur Fonzarelli and the great white, its occasional use is always welcome because, well, it’s bacon. Exhibit A: Comme Ça’s butterscotch and bacon pot de crème with chocolate-dipped bacon, in which Executive Chef Brian Howard demonstrates restraint in using the swine judiciously while still highlighting it. First unveiled as a part of his event, Brian’s Bacon Extravaganza in celebration of August’s National Bacon Day, the dessert was so well-received it found its rightful place on the regular menu. An amalgamation of sweet and meat highlighted by undertones of saltiness, the pot de crème itself is memorable. Coupled with chocolate-dipped bacon, the dish is practically unfair. Instead of having to wait for the annual event, you can sample the treat on a more regular basis — daily, maybe? — Jim Begley In The Cosmopolitan, 698-7910, | 55

Surprise of the Year Yonaka. Brilliant new Japanese cuisine is popping up all over the dining scene, but no one expected a former French café at Flamingo and Decatur to emerge as a palace of future-sushi, a thoughtfully experimental kitchen where any fresh, bright ingredient you can think of — and many you can’t — find their perfect place on a plate with raw fish. Toss in some fun izakaya standards and an insanely cheap happy hour, and you’ve got Yonaka, where hipness and comfort find a delicious balance. BR 4983 W. Flamingo Road, 685-8358,

Comeback of the Year Bradley Ogden. A loss for tourists is a gain for locals. After Bradley Ogden’s 2012 exit from the Strip, the Michelin-starred chef quickly reappeared with son Bryan at Hops & Harvest. Expect creative riffs on classic American comfort fare, like slow-roasted short ribs with maple-beer glaze, a perfectly gooey artisanal grilled cheese, and a silky butterscotch pudding. Locally sourced ingredients, a solid beer list and a must-try happy hour add to its appeal. It’s all of Ogden’s talent, minus the buttoned-down feel of his former eponymous restaurant. Debbie Lee 450 S. Rampart Blvd. #120, 476-3964,

Food and Beverage Professional of the Year Sarah Johnson at Mandalay Bay. What does a self-proclaimed über beer nerd do when handed the 56 | Desert


reins of a moribund beer program at a major Strip property? Mandalay Bay’s cherubic Sarah Johnson — to our knowledge, the Strip’s only female food and beverage director — dove in and has quickly made her mark with diversified beer selections throughout‚ including Lagunitas IPA on the casino floor (!) and beer-centric food-pairing events. As a certified cicerone, she knows her suds — and for this, we salute her. JB

Trendy Treat of the Year “One of Those” at Lulu’s Bread & Breakfast. Its cryptic name may be designed to avoid the wrath of Manhattan baker Dominique Ansel, trademark-holder of the term “cronut,” but there’s nothing generic about the delightful decadence infused into this flaky, cream-filled masterpiece. Especially when the cream filling is espresso-flavored, we’ll put the Lulu’s version of the doughnut-croissant hybrid up against NYC's or anybody else's. BR 6720 Skypointe Drive, 437-5858,

Buffet of the Year Wicked Spoon. Heaps of roasted bone marrow, perfect kale salads,

All-you-can-meat: Wicked Spoon

strawberry-balsamic ice cream: The buffet at The Cosmopolitan may not be the city’s largest or flashiest, but it’s hands down the most inventive. Wild boar sneaks into sliders, beef tongue stars in individual shepherd’s pies, and fried pig tails stand in for the standard chicken wing. There are plenty of safe bets for conservative palates (prime rib, shrimp cocktail), but if you need any more convincing, I have four words for you: macaroni and cheese bar. DL Inside The Cosmopolitan, 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 551-7772,

Soul Food of the Year Tie: Fat Choy and Top Notch Barbeque. The only prerequisite for soul food: The chef has to love his own cooking. That’s clearly the case for DIY restaurateurs Sheridan Su and Jimmy Cole, respectively dishing up the most satisfying Asian-American and barbecue grub in town. Su’s Fat Choy is already famous for its pork buns, but the short rib and fried egg-topped burger, and chicken and waffles are just as great. Meanwhile, no one does tender, smoky, intensely zesty spare ribs like Cole at Top Notch. Local food rocks. BR Inside the Eureka Casino, 595 E. Sahara Ave., 794-3464,; Top Notch Barbeque, 9310 S. Eastern Ave. #124, 883-1555,

Raw deal: sashimi at Kyara Tapas

Ethnic restaurantof theyear

Kyara Tapas Amid the new wave of Japanese cuisine, Kyara continues to innovate and intrigue Kyara Japanese Tapas opened in 2011 to strong reviews in the midst of the burgeoning Japanese dining scene. While the wave has settled, the valley’s Japanese cuisine continues to impress, and Kyara remains at the forefront. In the early days, Naked Fish and Kyara owner/head chef Yasou Komada seemed to split time between the two restaurants; over the past year, he’s been a fixture in Kyara’s open kitchen, and good dishes are just that much better. Presentation is impeccable, whether you’ve ordered a whole fried fish off the daily specials board or an artistic sashimi selection, while the robatayaki — skewers grilled over Japanese charcoal — are infused with perfect char. And their selection of Japanese libations — including shochus, sakes and whiskeys — remains unparalleled. While you’ll find some standard dishes, what’s most remarkable about Kyara are the outliers, dishes you rarely encounter. Yamaimo somen is finely shaved Japanese yam served in an almost savory dashi broth. Though it looks like a cold noodle soup, the dish provides a surprising amount of texture with underlying umami. The sharp and creamy blue cheese potato salad is a surprising find for a Japanese menu, while housemade ika no shiiokara — essentially fermented squid guts — is surprising on any menu. And don’t overlook the housemade desserts, which include airy tofu and yuzu cheese mousses, green tea waffles and a well-balanced chocolate fondant. While Japanese restaurants aren’t necessarily known for dessert offerings, these are eye-opening — just like Kyara itself. — Jim Begley 6555 S. Jones Blvd., 434-8856,

B r a d l e y Ogd e n C o u r t e s y o f H o p s & H a r v e s t; B u ff e t C o u r t e s y o f W i ck e d S p o o n ; S a s h i m i a n d C h a d a t h a i & W i n e : S a b i n O r r ; G EOR G E J A C Q UE Z : BREN T HOLMES

Side Dish Awards

Neighborhood restaurantof theyear

Chada Thai & Wine This innovative Chinatown upstart deserves all the national attention it gets Chinatown consistently provides the buzziest restaurants. Have you been to that new joint on Spring Mountain? It seems there’s always another izakaya or noodle shop popping up, arousing nearequal interest from local foodies and Asian tourists sneaking off the Strip. You can see that oddly comfortable blend in so many hot spots around here, proving that as far as restaurants go, Chinatown is everyone’s neighborhood. Chada Thai is one of these places. On any given night you might find visiting celebrity chefs competing for a table with pre-clubbers or wide-eyed suburbanites, browsing the diverse wine list for just the right bottle. Serious eaters and drinkers know Bank Atcharawan from his time at

Lotus of Siam and couldn’t wait to sample the goods at his own place, edgy, intense fare like crab-ginger-coconut lettuce wraps laced with chili and lime, or fried Cornish hen with garlic. In its first year, Chada earned national nods from Food & Wine and Bon Appetit. When’s the last time a neighborhood restaurant in Las Vegas pulled that off? Yet even with the early accolades and word-of-mouth recommendations, there’s still a sense this place has yet to be truly discovered. Maybe it’s because there are so many amazing dishes still to be experienced, no matter how many return visits: rich, spicy panang curry with chunks of meltingly tender beef; a stir-fry of mushrooms, lotus root and Brussels sprouts; fiery duck fried rice with a sour tang from fish sauce; or braised pork belly with black soy sauce. Welcome to the neighborhood. — Brock Radke 3400 S. Jones Blvd. #11A, 641-1345,

Thai to die for: clockwise from bottom left, moo hong (braised pork belly); panang beef curry; yum kai nok kata (fried quail eggs)

Where I get gear

George Jacquez executive chef, Aliante Casino

“When I go shopping for stuff I need professionally, I always go local when I can, and not just for food. You can get just about anything from any part of the world at International Marketplace. Either they have it or they can get it for you, and most of their gear comes with a very reasonable price. I’ve been there probably 20 times and they still have things on the shelves I haven’t seen yet.” | 57

Where I get inspired “I’m a yoga person. For inspiration, I really just need to clear my head. I go to Vegas Hot, which is bikram-ish. Super-fun, kind of a detox thing. But the poses work me more than the heat ... I’m used to being in hot environments.”

New restaurantof theyear

Rx Boiler Room Sure, the steampunk theme is clever. Beyond the cogs and beakers, however, churns a perfect flavor machine Much has been made of the theme of Rick Moonen’s new casual eatery, which is the most original concept to hit the Strip in years. But this isn’t some cliquey clubhouse reserved for devotees of the steampunk fad. The purpose behind Rx Boiler Room’s theme is to encourage a childhood sense of wonder with mechanics and classic science fiction, laced with a dose of good oldfashioned fun. The room is decorated with glass skulls, sequined animal heads and plush couches. Jules Verne films run on video moni58 | Desert

Companion | DECEMBER 2013

tors. Bartenders tend to bubbling potions. And the drop-dead-gorgeous waitstaff is decked out in Victorian corsets. “Everybody that walks into this restaurant is intrigued by the way it looks,” Moonen says. In other words, the decor is merely prepping your palate for the real source of intrigue and wonder: the food. Rx Boiler Room’s menu features some of the most original and playful creations in town. Who else but Moonen (aided by skilled Executive Chef John Church) could create such mischievously delicious dishes as bacon-wrapped bacon with quail egg, or Squid-E-O’s: squid “pasta” in squid ink tomato sauce with merguez sausage meatballs? Countless high-end chefs are making their food more affordable and approachable these days — thus the glut of gastropubs, burger joints and pizza places. To do it with something this unique sets Moonen top hat-and-shoulders above the crowd. — Al Mancini In Mandalay Place,, 632-7200

Boiler plates: left, inside-out French onion grilled cheese; above, salmon smoked under glass

R X B o i l e r R o o m : S a b i n ORR ; Fat i m a h M a dy u n : B r e n t H o l m e s

Fatimah Madyun chef de cuisine, Rao’s

Pastry Chefof theYear

Mio Ogasawara at Sweets Raku

Sw e e t s R a k u : C h r i s to p h e r S m i t h

This dessert guru’s creations are so amazing, she deserved a sweet stage of her own

With so many world-class restaurants on the Strip, there’s no shortage of great desserts created by extraordinarily talented chefs. But true dessert aficionados gladly make the short trip up Spring Mountain Road to the unassuming little strip mall that houses Sweets Raku. Here, amid Las Vegas’ finest collection of Japanese restaurants, Mio Ogasawara creates some of the most delicious desserts imaginable in a tiny restaurant with no sign on the door. The award-winning chef humbly insists her creations are exactly what you’d find in a typical dessert bar in Japan. But they’re so delicately balanced and exquisitely rendered, they would shine in any French fine-dining restaurant. The menu (which itself is edible) is deceptively simple. You can order three courses for $19, with your choice of “main” course. One day, your options may include the “Apollo,” two layers of mousse (dark chocolate and raspberry) on top of a chocolate sponge cake, garnished with Earl Grey ice cream and raspberry sauce. Return the next day, and it may be replaced with Mont Blanc chestnuts with chestnut cream. If you’re not terribly hungry, you can get the pre-set first and third course for $12. But do yourself a favor, and go for all three — and add a cheese platter, which features a creamy mixture of blue cheese and heavy cream piped onto the plate like cake icing. Owner Mitsuo Endo could have simply showcased Ogasawara’s creations in the nearby sister restaurant Raku — an awardwinning establishment in its own right. But he wisely decided to give her a stage of her own, allowing the chef to create her delicacies right before the eyes of each and every customer. And even if you don’t speak Japanese (which a large portion of the customers do), her charming personality and engaging smile add an extra dose of sweetness to already unforgettable desserts. “This is my first time to be out in front of a counter,” the chef says through a translator. “So it’s my first time to really see and serve the customers. And I’ve learned a lot.” — Al Mancini 5040 W. Spring Mountain Road #3, 290-7181

Sweet arts: left, the "Apollo," comprising mousse, sponge cake and Earl Grey ice cream; right, "Mount Fuji," a sponge cake covered in whipped cream and chestnut paste | 59

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Chefof theyear

Ryuki Kawasaki Twist by Pierre Gagnaire

C HE F K awa s a k i a n d F o o d : C h r i s to p h e r S m i t h ; Da n i e l Co u g h l i n : B r e n t H o l m e s

His work is at once an inspired execution and disciplined interpretation of Gagnaire’s culinary vision Interpreting the vision of a globe-trotting superstar chef on a nightly basis is a challenge put to the executive chefs and chefs de cuisine in countless top Las Vegas restaurants. But none faces as daunting a task as Ryuki Kawasaki. His boss, Pierre Gagnaire, is revered as one of the finest chefs in the world. He is also one of the most daring, unpredictable, adventurous and inspired — routinely putting together flavor and style combinations that would make the heads of even his most talented contemporaries spin. He and Kawasaki rewrite Twist’s menu every three months based on seasonal ingredients. And then? Gagnaire leaves. He trusts his local chef to recreate these jaw-dropping dishes for each and every guest. Since opening in late 2009, Twist has never failed to impress. But it was the arrival of Kawasaki last year that truly matched the boldness of Gagnaire’s concepts with the precision they deserve. His execution of dishes as complex as pumpkin velouté with cubes of tuna and foie gras, or a trio of lobster preparations served as a single course, is flawless every night. At the same time, he somehow makes his boss’ potentially intimidating creations a bit more approachable. “I’ve been working for him for eight years,” says Kawasaki, a veteran of Gagnaire’s restaurants in Paris and London. “My vision and his vision are the same. So it’s easy for me to understand what he wants to do.” Unlike many chefs in high-profile Las Vegas restaurants, Kawasaki says he’s more comfortable in the kitchen than greeting guests in the dining room. “Of course, I trust my team,” he explains. “But I prefer to check every piece of food before it goes to the guest.” Having eaten many of those dishes since Kawasaki’s arrival, we can assure you they’ve all been perfect. — Al Mancini In the Mandarin Oriental, 888-881-9367,

Cooking on a curve: above, Twist's venison filet; left, pumpkin velouté with cubes of tuna and foie gras

Daniel Coughlin chef/owner, Le Thai

Where I spend a night off “When we get a night off, we go to Tokyo. It’s in the same shopping center as Lotus of Siam. Their appetizers and sashimi are just awesome. A lot of popular sushi joints specialize in rolls and that’s cool, but we’re more sashimi people. The salmon belly is ridiculous, and there are quail egg shooters with ponzu and sake and uni.” | 61

restaurantof theyear

Heritage Steak The triumphant return — and reinvention — of the American steakhouse The Strip surged this year. Esteemed arrivals Andrea’s, Hakkasan, Nobu at Caesars Palace and Mandalay Bay’s funky duo of Kumi and Rx Boiler Room seemed to re-assert hotel dining dominance when many of our most interesting developments are happening off the Strip. You have several new reasons to get back now, but you must begin with Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steak at the Mirage, for many reasons. First, the space: Woven through the domed rainforest atrium just inside the classic resort’s main entrance, Heritage hearkens back to a time when casino restaurants didn’t have to hide from the casino. It feels fresh and yet lived in, like a warm mahogany home was carved out of a giant tropical tree just for us. Second, the service: It’s rare for a 62 | Desert

Companion | DECEMBER 2013

new restaurant to come without some working-it-out slip-ups, even on the Vegas Strip. This crew shows no flaws, obliging with the cool confidence that comes with experience and education. They know their menu, which brings us to the impeccable food: Heritage declares there is still something new to be done with the American steakhouse. Chef Anthony Zappola, who’s logged nearly 10 years at Colicchio’s Craft restaurants in New York and Los Angeles, makes his Las Vegas debut a stunning one. The focus is on open-flame cooking, but really Heritage is doing what others are only attempting: balancing tradition with creativity, branching out into interesting ingredients while staying dedicated to simplicity. The natural prime filet will be the most flavorful one you’ve ever tasted, but the vadouvan-rubbed lamb ribs might be something you’ve never tasted before. You’ve certainly never seen skewers of quail glazed in soy, chili and black garlic on another steakhouse menu. Ditto for slightly smoky, wood-roasted peaches plated

with extravagant Iberico ham. And the stuff you are familiar with — the braised short ribs, the charred octopus, the ribeye with balsamic onion relish — well, nobody does it better. — Brock Radke In the Mirage, 791-7111,


What's at steak: far right, ash-roasted bone marrow; below, lamb ribs; opposite page, the natural prime filet | 63



Mancini Vegas Seven magazine

We took three of the valley’s top food writers out to lunch to dish about the state of the Vegas dining scene. We didn’t save you any pizza — but here are a few slices of our lively conversation

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Companion | DECEMBER 2013



critic at large


R adke Las Vegas Weekly


Kir aly moderator | 65

at the table:

Sum up the year in dining. Nobu Loca! Ha. Big Crazy Nobu. Sushi places always have these names like Crazy Sushi or Super Yum.

Is Vegas’ fine dining status threatened by the casual trend?

debbie lee

Brock Radke

Lowbrow. The whole going-casual thing because of the economy.

I don’t think going casual is a bad idea. A lot of times I want something casual, and I want it made by someone like Rick Moonen or Shawn McClain.

People have been saying that for the last millennium.

I think downtown’s really gonna pop.

We got more big arrivals on the Strip. We haven’t had a casino open since Cosmopolitan, but this year we got Hakkasan — that was something fresh — and we got big crazy Nobu at Caesars.

The national press has criticized us for not having a local dining scene, but now we’re developing one. I had Kevin Pang (Chicago Tribune) here and he wanted to go to Raku. Julia Moskin (New York Times) wanted to go to Great Bao, a sandwich shop in a hair salon at the time.

I don’t think so. Vegas isn’t like other cities. National food people don’t care about Vegas. We have big restaurant openings here, but they’re not big blips on the national scene. It’ll always be customerdriven here.

66 | Desert

al Mancini

Companion | DECEMBER 2013

So these Strip chefs aren’t just slumming?

Andrew Kiraly

The question is will downtown get off its ass, and will Tony Hsieh learn about food, and not just try to cater to the 25-year-olds who work at Zappos who don’t know about food?

What’s on the horizon next year?

Even Robuchon and Guy Savoy learned that nobody in Las Vegas wants a four-hour dining experience. For me, that’s a drag.

Does the world need another gourmet burger?

They’re making great whatever it is they’re making. I’d rather have world-class chefs making my burger than some schmuck.

How come we still have Twist?

I did six courses last night at Twist in about an hour and half. They’ve sped things up — everywhere. I don’t see the four-hour meal ever coming back.

What were some of your most memorable meals in 2013?

You wouldn’t recommend any place downtown?

La Comida. Breakfast, go to Eat. Phenomenal. Le Thai when it was on its game was fantastic, but I don’t know if it’s held up.

What makes you say downtown’s gonna pop? Andiamo Steakhouse in the D is really good.

What would be amazing downtown is a charcuterie and wine shop. That would get me out of the ’burbs on a Saturday.

I don’t see kale that frequently, but I don’t really look at the salad section.

I’m tired of kale, but I’m equally tired of people saying they’re tired of kale.

When are we gonna get the gourmet doughnut trend? I’m ready for that.

Rollin Smoke Barbeque. I don’t know where that place came from. We were the only ones there, there were flies, but we ate it the hell up. My husband has an expression: There’s white-people ribs, and there’s black-people ribs — and these are black-people ribs.

The Downtown Grand and Pizza Rock both opened. There are a bunch of new restaurants in Downtown Grand, and the people running Downtown Grand are from Wynn.

The food is fine at La Comida, but I feel like Michael Morton brought the Strip to downtown — all the girls look like they came from Wynn. Too glossy.

But the ones at Central. I’m all about those — with the white anchovies on top ...

I’ll still do that one at Flamingo, the bacon satay at the steakhouse.

I like Rx Boiler Room a lot. It’s a hugely fun place.

There’s a disconnect between the food that it’s serving and how the theme comes at your face. But of all the chefs doing their take on approachable food, Moonen’s was the most exciting.

It’s something grandma’s supposed to make me on the holidays.

I’m over bacon, just served as bacon. I don’t want to be able to make what I’m having.

I love deviled eggs.

You don’t find the theme gimmicky? I mean, we are in Vegas ...

There’s a certain playfulness to the theme that makes it forgivable.

One of my big disappointments was losing Rattlecan at the Venetian. It’s another indication of the Venetian not necessarily knowing what they’re getting into when something’s too hip and too cool.

What trends are you over?

Stop serving me deviled eggs. | 67

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Art Music T h e at e r Da n c e FA M I LY

a r t s + e n t e r ta i n m e n t

Regarding the Black Crowes, we hear there’s new life in the old birds these days, possibly thanks to new guitarist Jackie Green. Scouting reports from the current tour reassure us that frontman Chris Robinson will be his usual dervish of charisma when the band jams at the Hard Rock Hotel on Dec. 13. The Crowes appear to be mixing hits (“Hard to Handle,” et al) with deep cuts and creative covers. Tickets are $34.50-$70. Info:

Installing art in motel rooms — it’s a thing now. For Greetings from Las Vegas, some 30 artists, architects, organizations and free-range dreamers will fill rooms at downtown’s Gateway Motel with their creative visions of a greener, more sustainable Las Vegas. (Like we said, dreamers — but the kind we need.) The one-night-only event will be 6-10p, Dec. 5, at 928 Las Vegas Blvd. S. Free.

Here in the gray haze of magazine lead time, we have no idea which two college football teams — one each from the Mountain West and PAC-12 conferences — will meet in the 22nd annual Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 21. But if attendance holds to recent form, some 30,000 people will pack the Sam Boyd Stadium to see for themselves. You could be one of them. Tickets are $35$110. Info:

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Here’s a mashup worth an earful: The CSN Department of Fine Arts’ concert band will join forces with CSN’s mariachi band for an evening of holiday tunes, Dec. 10. It’s a heartening crosscultural collaboration that may just spawn a new musical form known as “chamber mariachi.” 7:30p, $5-$8, Nicholas J. Horn Theatre at CSN Cheyenne Campus

If we have learned anything from David Lynch — other than “don’t make Dune” — it’s that small-town America, beneath its homespun veneer, is a hot seethe of human psychodrama. (Thanks, Twin Peaks!) That’s certainly the case in playwright Joshua Conkel’s fictional Clear Creek, the setting for “The Chalk Boy,” about a disappeared kid and four girls crushing on him. Dec. 6-22, Cockroach Theatre in Art Square. Info:

Want your event in our Calendar? Submit your event with a brief description to

ART JOURNEY OF THE HEART BY JANE ASARI Through Dec. 1. Unique, mixed media collages on canvas using a combination of materials, including acrylic paint, paper, marble dust, mica and plant life. Free. Spring Valley Library, CHAUVINISM AT WORK: ROLE EVOLUTION?

Through Dec. 6, Mon-Fri, 9a-4p; Sat 10a2p. A solo exhibit by Cathryn Sugg that explores how the female identity is impacted by current professional and social trends, while examining the interplay between working-woman and sex object. Free. CSN Fine Arts Gallery, ANNUAL WOODTURNERS EXHIBITION

Through Dec. 8. Featuring the outstanding craftsmanship and skill of the Woodturners Association’s members, including latheturned wood, wood vessels, wood boxes with inlay and other creations. Free. Summerlin Library, PASSAGE TO THE FUTURE: ART FROM A NEW GENERATION IN JAPAN

Through Dec. 20, Mon-Wed and Fri, 9a5p; Thu, 9a-8p; Sat, noon-5p. Featuring 42 works from 11 Japanese artists, some internationally known, this installation is a concise yet broad-ranging survey of contemporary Japanese art. The display showcases sculpture, photography, filmmaking, painting and ceramic ware. Free. Barrick Museum Auditorium at UNLV, NEON METROPOLIS

Through Dec. 23. Anthony Bondi’s original collages give an up-close look at his surreal ruminations on life in his hometown of Las Vegas. Free. Sin City Gallery, NEVADA WATERCOLOR SOCIETY FALL MEMBERSHIP SHOW Through Jan. 14. A juried exhibition featuring original watercolors by members of the Nevada Watercolor Society, created in the past year and not exhibited prior to this. Featuring Best of Show, 1st-3rd place, three honorable mentions and the “Dottie Burton Creative Award.” Free. Sahara West Library, CANON 21 BY JOSE BELLVER Through Jan. 21. Featuring new work on canvas from the artist’s Geometric Series. This is the first exhibition in The Studio. Free. Sahara West Library, GREETINGS FROM LAS VEGAS Dec. 5, 6-10p. Browse through 20 rooms, where local artists, designers, activists and other members of the community will showcase their visions of a greener, more sustainable Las Vegas Valley. Each room will feature installations or displays of a creative medium by individuals, pairs, groups or official organizations. Free. Gateway

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Motel at Charleston and Las Vegas Blvd. S., FIRST FRIDAY

Dec. 6 and Jan. 3, 5-11p. Celebrate Downtown Las Vegas’ unique brand of arts and culture with exhibits, open galleries, live music, DJs, food trucks, vendor booths and special activities for the kids. Free. Arts District; hub at Casino Center Blvd. between Colorado St. and California St., REFLECTIONS OF THE EBONY GUYS, DOLLS & TECHS

Dec. 7-Jan. 25; Artists’ reception Dec. 7, 3p. A historical documentation in photographs that represents original dancers and technicians of color who performed in the chorus lines or worked behind the scenes of major hotel extravaganzas on the Las Vegas Strip. Free. West Las Vegas Arts Center Community Gallery, 947 W. Lake Mead Blvd., 229-4800

A MARI-ACHI CHRISTMAS: MARIACHI SOL DE MEXICO DE JOSÉ HERNÁNDEZ Dec. 3, 7:30p. A night of colorful celebration of Mexico’s Christmas traditions with a special tribute to the states of Veracruz, Yucatan and Jalisco. Experience the traditional posadas and pastorals of Mexico through the joy of music with seasonal songs, dance and festive merriment. $26-$79 Reynolds Hall at The Smith Center THE COMPOSERS SHOWCASE OF LAS VEGAS Dec. 4, 10:30p. Focusing on uniting the theater community of Las Vegas while giving creative spirits an outlet for artistic expression, The Composers Showcase is not “open mic.” Each presentation is carefully planned and composers and materials are screened in order to pro-

vide the best and highest quality of entertainment. $20. Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center CLINT HOLMES FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Dec. 6-7, 8:30p. The acclaimed singer who has been named Las Vegas Entertainer of the Year three times, Singer of the Year four times and awarded the Sammy Davis Jr. Foundation award has returned to his roots. For his holiday show, Clint and his wife, Kelly, will be joined by special guests for a seasonal spectacular. $35-$40. Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center LAS VEGAS PHILHARMONIC: WE LOVE THE HOLIDAYS! Dec. 7, 2p and 7:30p. Featuring the Las Vegas Master Singers, Clark County Children’s Choir and the Faith Lutheran Middle and

DANCE CSN FALL DANCE CONCERT Dec. 6, 7p; Dec. 7, 2p. The CSN Dance Ensemble, the internationally acclaimed Concert Dance Company and special guests present “Ein Heldenleben: A Hero’s Life, The Story of Richard Moore,” based on the true story of a community college president, featuring music by Richard Strauss and choreography by Kelly Roth. $10 adults, $8 students/seniors. Nicholas J. Horn Theatre at CSN Cheyenne, THE NUTCRACKER

Dec. 14-15 and Dec. 18-21, 7:30p; Dec. 15 and Dec. 21-22, 2p. From the moment the curtain rises, find out just how thrilling a tradition can be as you are transported to a world of magic and wonder. The first production of its kind built for the Reynolds Hall stage features grand sets, costumes and the choreography of Artistic Director James Canfield. This larger-than-life production returns for its second year with added elements. $53-$178. Reynolds Hall at The Smith Center

MUSIC DESERT CHORALE’S 28TH ANNUAL CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION CONCERT Dec. 2, 7:30p. This 60-voice, nonprofit community chorus represents all areas of the greater Las Vegas Valley and all walks of life. With special guests The Nevada Pops and the The Warm Springs Stake Bell Choir. Free. Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall at UNLV, CSN ORCHESTRA

Dec. 2, 7:30p. The Department of Fine Arts’ Orchestra, conducted by Christopher Davis, performs a variety of classical music selections by acclaimed composers of the genre. $8 adults, $5 students/seniors. Nicholas J. Horn Theatre at CSN Cheyenne,

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What are words for? Words on display in Las Vegas tend to be large, neon, commercial — they want something from you. Not so the words in Sampler, a show of textoriented art at the Contemporary Arts Center. These works, from artists both local (Robert Beckmann, Jw Caldwell, others) and out of state, want to use your familiarity with common signage to get you thinking about less common concerns — sense of place, who we are, that kind of thing. While you’re there, scope out CAC’s new digs at 1217 S. Main St. Through Dec. 14, — Scott Dickensheets

a r t s + e n t e r ta i n m e n t

High Schools Handbell Choir, this boisterous celebration of the holidays includes favorites alongside orchestral and choral works, culminating in their traditional audience sing-along. $25-$94. Reynolds Hall at The Smith Center CSN JAZZ COMBOS & JAZZ SINGERS

Dec. 8, 2p. The Department of Fine Arts’ three jazz combos, led by Matt Taylor and Kevin Stout, and the Jazz Singers, directed by Dr. Mark Wherry, present an afternoon of musical standards, classics and contemporary works. $8 adults, $5 students/seniors. BackStage Theatre at CSN Cheyenne, CLINT HOLMES FOR THE HOLIDAYS IN SYMPHONY PARK Dec. 8, 5p. Clint Holmes will gather his friends from across the Las Vegas entertainment community, including his wife Kelly Clinton to create a special evening full of your favorite Christmas music. Bring your blanket and enjoy the lit Christmas tree and outdoor holiday cheer. $15-$50. Symphony Park at The Smith Center

JUST WRIGHT FOR THE HOLIDAYS Dec. 15, 2p and 6p. Christmas is Danny Wright’s favorite time of year, and this year promises an intimate, warm and wintry celebration of the holidays appropriate for the whole family. Danny will play heartfelt favorites from his four Christmas albums, adding his unique touch to beloved pieces like “Carol of the Bells” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” as well as sharing a few original works like “Song of Joy” and “Innocence.” $30$75. Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center

MY PLACE FOR THE HOLIDAYS Dec. 16, 7p. Travis Cloer, aka “Frankie Valli” from Jersey Boys, brings his 7-piece band for an evening full of all your Christmas Favorites. Bring your whole family for that old-time holiday TV special feel! $25-$35. Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center THE DEANA MARTIN CHRISTMAS SHOW

Dec. 20-21, 7p; Dec. 22, 2p. Deana Martin takes the audience on a musical sleigh ride




Dec. 10, 7:30p. The Department of Fine Arts’ Concert Band, directed by Dr. Richard McGee, and the Mariachi Band, directed by Albert Garcia, perform traditional favorites and holiday selections. $8 adults, $5 students/seniors. Nicholas J. Horn Theatre at CSN Cheyenne, CSN BIG BAND & STEEL DRUM BAND CONCERT Dec. 11, 7:30p. The Department of Fine Arts’ Wednesday Night Jazz Band, led by Dr. Richard McGee, and the Calypso Coyote Steel Drum Band, directed by Robert Bonora, entertain audiences with classics, standards and a few surprises. $8 adults, $5 students/seniors. Nicholas J. Horn Theatre at CSN Cheyenne,

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Dec. 12, 7:30p. The Department of Fine Arts’ choral ensembles, including the Chamber Chorale, Jazz Singers and members of the voice classes, will wow you at their semesterending concert. $8 adults, $5 students/ seniors. Nicholas J. Horn Theatre at CSN Cheyenne, ELEMENTS: CHILDHOOD

Dec. 14, 7:30p. The Desert Winds Contemporary Wind Ensemble invites you to spend an evening warming your heart to favorite childhood memories of the season. This year’s concert program includes a soulful rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear” with Eliysheba Anderson, along with the ensemble’s third annual “in the round” performance centered on “The Little Drummer Boy.” $10-$15. Community Lutheran Church, 3720 E. Tropicana Ave.,


Aug 1 - Oct 16


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a r t s + e n t e r ta i n m e n t

filled with classic yuletide tunes and songs honoring her legendary father, Dean Martin, and other great performers who shaped American music and popular culture for more than four decades. $37-$59. Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center KRISTIN CHENOWETH

Dec. 31, 7:30p. This Emmy and Tony Awardwinner makes a rare appearance for New Year’s Eve. The evening will feature an array of her most memorable songs and Broadway show tunes, including music from “Wicked,” “Promises, Promises” and “Glee.” This unique night with the multi-talented performer promises to take concert-goers on a ride of laughter, heartbreak, thrills and great music. $49-$175. Reynolds Hall at The Smith Center


Education Featuring some of the valley’s public, private, magnet and adult education schools.

MY MOTHER’S ITALIAN, MY FATHER’S JEWISH & I’M HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS … THE THERAPY CONTINUES Dec. 5-7, 7p; Dec. 7, 3p; Dec. 8, 5p. Steve Solomon is headed home to celebrate the holidays with his wildly dysfunctional family, but he’s stuck at the airport with all flights canceled due to a storm when the chaos begins. We get to attend holiday dinner at Uncle Paulie’s where, if you’re under 55 you get to sit at “the children’s table.” Imagine 35 over-fed people and one toilet. Peace on Earth, good will towards men and where’s the plunger? $35-$40. Troesh Studio Theater at The Smith Center A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Dec. 5-7 and 12-14, 8p; Dec. 7-8 and 14-15, 2p. A treasured holiday classic loved by both

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76 | Desert

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the young and old at heart. Charles Dickens’ iconic Christmas story features Ebenezer Scrooge and the three ghosts who lead him through time and show him the error of his ways. $20-$30, $10 for UNLV students. Judy Bayley Theatre at UNLV, 895-2787

Rat Pack holiday spirit Deana Martin is the daughter of Dean Martin. To be sure, she inherited an unerring sense of Rat Pack cool, but her singing style is all her own, with a focus on elegance, charm and just a touch of irreverence. In “The Deana Martin Christmas Show,” she’ll apply her trademark stylings to Christmas classics and, of course, a few Rat Pack standards as well. Deana Martin performs Dec. 20-22 at Cabaret Jazz in The Smith Center. Tickets $37$59. Info: — Andrew Kiraly


Dec. 14, 7p. Do Christmas improv-style! Every holiday-themed song and scene is created on the spot using suggestions from the audience. Discover some incredible local talent. Come early for Name That Tune (and chocolate). $10 at the door, kids free. American Heritage Academy, 6126 S. Sandhill Road,

workshop. Unity of the Valley, 3037 E. Warm Springs Road #300,


THE SMITH CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS WALKING TOURS Every Wed and Sat, 10:30a. Take a guided tour of The Smith Center campus and learn about its architectural accomplishments, artwork and historic overview. Free. Register in advance at

ADD HOLLYWOOD PIZZAZZ TO YOUR PRESENTATIONS Dec. 7, 8:30a. Hall of Fame keynote speaker and executive speech coach Patricia Fripp combines forces with Hollywood story expert (and Will Smith’s script consultant) Michael Hauge for this once-in-a-lifetime program. $29 national members, $39 affiliates, $55 guests, $37 for the afternoon

FAMILY HOLIDAY CARDS Dec. 2, 3:30-6p. All ages can come to handcraft a beautiful holiday card for someone special. There will be something for everyone! Free. Las Vegas Mesquite Library, Meeting Room,



On a cold morning, the Red Cross was there for Angelina and her family with shoes, warm clothes and shelter. Every 9 minutes, we help a family after a home ďŹ re.

ease donate now at Donate at

a r t s + e n t e r ta i n m e n t

BATTLE BORN BOOK FESTIVAL Dec. 7, 10a-4p. Celebrate books about Nevada with author lectures, book signings and free refreshments. The event will feature a wide variety of books that explore Nevada’s history, natural history and culture. Free. Nevada State Museum, CREATIVE WORKSHOP: MIXED MEDIA

Dec. 7, 10a-noon. Creating awesome collages is fun and easy! Mixed media collage starts with being curious about the world, seeing what is possible and making connections. Create your own to take home. All ages welcome, reservations required. $20 members, $30 non-members. Springs Preserve,


Through Dec. 6. The library will showcase a beautiful seasonal display of decorated trees with wreaths and hostess gifts for sale. A silent auction and raffles include more than 225 gift baskets and several book bundles. Featured best-selling author is Robyn Carr. The festivities will culminate with a ticketed gala reception and silent auction on Dec. 6, 7-10p. All funds raised will be used to purchase youth services materials. Festival is free, tickets for the gala are $35. Paseo Verde Library, 280 S. Green Valley Parkway, Henderson,

land with millions of sparkling lights, nightly entertainment, great food and endless holiday cheer. Ride the Forest Express train and visit Boris the Elf’s 3D experience or Rudolph’s Raceway. Proceeds benefit persons with disabilities. $9-$19.99, depending on package. Opportunity Village, 6300 W. Oakey Blvd. HOLIDAY COOKING OIL RECYCLING

Dec. 1-2 and Dec. 26-Jan. 15, 10a-4p. Don’t be a pain in the drain! Bring your used cooking oil and grease to the Springs Preserve to be safely recycled this holiday season. Free. South ticketing parking lot, Springs Preserve,




Dec. 19, 3:30-5:30p. Kids ages 3-10 can hand-

Through Jan. 1, 5-10p. Visits from Santa, Dec. 1, Dec. 6-8, Dec. 13-23, 5-9p. Featuring

Dec. 5-14, 10a-5p daily. More than 400 ven-

make useful and beautiful gifts for their loved ones just in time for Christmas! Free. Las Vegas Mesquite Library, Room Deuce,

FUNDRAISERS SECOND ANNUAL SE SISTERS CONNECT & SPOTLIGHTING YOU! GALA Dec. 7, 5:30-8:30p. Calling all sisters of faith! This is a rare opportunity to network with other professional Christian women and take the spotlight to share your passion, testimony, cause or gift. Benefits Sisters Evolve. Spotlight tickets and vendor tables are limited. $20-$40, vendor tables $100. Living Faith Assembly, 4560 E. Charleston Blvd.,

more than 600,000 sparkling lights displayed throughout a sprawling three-acre Botanical Cactus Garden, this is a local tradition you can’t miss. Free. Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Botanical Garden, 2 Cactus Garden Drive, Henderson, CHRISTMAS AT MYSTIC FALLS

Through Jan. 1, 24 hours, with laser shows at 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10p. The completely indoor park is decorated for the holidays with a 30-foot Christmas tree, thousands of lights, fishing polar bears and dozens of other fun displays. Free. Sam’s Town, WINTER IN VENICE

HOLIDAY SPARKLE WITH LVHA Dec. 12, 5:30-8:30p. Time to get your glam on! Come sparkle with the Las Vegas Hospitality Association and cheer to an incredible year. Includes seated dinner, artisan holiday gift raffle, memorable entertainment and door prizes! $45 members, $65 non-members. The Keep Memory Alive Event Center, 888 W. Bonneville Ave., BACHELORS 4 CHARITY PRESENTS LADIES NIGHT WITH A PURPOSE Dec. 28, 8-11p. Besides benefitting the Goodie Two Shoes Foundation, you could win a date with one of Las Vegas’ most eligible bachelors! Come dressed for a cocktail party and enjoy the auction as well as raffle prizes, food and drinks. Ladies 21 and older only. $25-$40, multiple discounts. Springs Preserve,

HOLIDAY HAPPENINGS 2013 CITY OF HENDERSON HOLIDAY DECORATING CONTEST Through Dec. 2. The Commemorative Beautification Commission’s annual Outdoor Holiday Decorating Contest is a great way to show community pride and light up this special season. The contest is open to any home within Henderson city limits. This year’s theme is “Holiday Traditions in the Desert.” Deadline is Dec. 2 and limited to the first 50 entries received.

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Through Jan. 5, every night at 6:05, 8:05 and 10:05p. Beginning with a massive parade, this holiday show will wow you with flying angels, wild costumes and a 65-foot holiday tree that lights up by the Rialto Bridge. Free. The Venetian, 414-1000

dors will fill the huge auditorium with unique products from all over the U.S. and Canada. If you’re looking to buy your cowboy the perfect custom jewelry, western wear, boots and spurs, furniture, art, pottery or one-of-a-kind craft, you won’t want to miss this! Shop till you drop, then catch the free shuttle to the Thomas & Mack Center for each night’s rodeo performance. Free. Las Vegas C onvention Center North Hall, IT’S A CAROL OF AN AFTERNOON

Dec. 20, 3-5p. Come listen to various musicians play some of your favorite holiday songs. Fun for all ages. Free. Las Vegas Mesquite Library, Meeting Room, SCUBA SANTA

Dec. 21-22, 10a-1p. Even sharks and fish need to tell Santa their Christmas wishes. Kids will love seeing this jolly old submerged fellow. Free. The Aquarium at Silverton,



Through Jan. 5, Sun-Thu, 5:30-9p; Fri-Sat, 5:30-10p. This holiday drive-through spectacu-

Dec. 23-24, hourly from 11a-3p. For these

lar has entertained more than one million people in the past 13 years with a dazzling array of festive lights and sounds. Completely LED, the 2.5-mile course is environmentally sound, with colors that shine more vibrantly than before. This year even includes a living nativity! $20 per car Fri-Sun, $15 weeknights. Las Vegas Motor Speedway, ICE SKATING AT THE COSMOPOLITAN

Through Jan. 5, Mon-Fri, 3p-midnight; Sat-Sun, noon-midnight. Skate right on the Strip! This holiday rink features festive food and drinks nearby. Try “Date Skate” on Monday nights, “Industry Skate” for locals on Wednesdays, and “Throwback Thursdays” featuring music from the ‘70s-’90s. $10 Nevada residents, $15 nonresidents, $5 skate rental. Boulevard Pool, The Cosmopolitan, THE MAGICAL FOREST

Through Jan. 6, 5:30p daily. A winter wonder-

two magical days only, Santa Claus will read holiday stories and hand out candy canes as the festive “Polar Express” train embarks on a very special 20-minute journey down the Exploration Trail. $3 members, $5 non-members. Springs Preserve, KWANZAA 2013: A CELEBRATION OF AFRICAN VALUES, CULTURE & COMMUNITY Dec. 28, 11a-4:30p. A communal celebration aimed to unite, reflect, dialogue, educate, honor and share in the principles and meaning of Kwanzaa. Activities will include marketplace vendors; “El Hajj Malik - A Play about Malcolm X”; the Soweto Gospel Choir; Community Honors presentation “Elders Tribute”; and the UMOJA Boys & SISTA Girls Rites of Passage Graduation Ceremony. Free. West Las Vegas Library, NEW YEAR’S EVE ROCK AND ROLL Dec. 31, 11:30a-noon. Children from infants to 11 years old are invited for a fun-filled, brief introduction to Shaker crafts and dancing. Free. Las Vegas Enterprise Library, Storyroom,

end note

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Happy Holidays from New Vista Happy Holidays from New Vista! We wish you and your family every happiness this Holiday Season and prosperity in the New Year! New Vista is a non-profit organization that specializes in helping adults and youth with intellectual challenges. We provide an array of programs to individuals and their loved ones that create equal opportunities and support so that they may experience life to the fullest.

For just $50 you can sponsor a supported individual for the Holidays or you can sponsor an entire home! For more information, please call 702-457-4677, ext. 133. Wells Fargo is proud to support New Vista.

Learn how you can help at

Desert Companion - December 2013  
Desert Companion - December 2013  

Your guide to living in southern Nevada