The Other Critics

Las Vegas: A Good Town to Be a Non-Anonymous Critic

Vegas critic Al Mancini.
Vegas critic Al Mancini. Photo: Courtesy of Al Mancini.

Las Vegas tends to present a conundrum for food-loving travelers: Are Sin City’s restaurants full of gustatory pleasures, or are its casinos full of expensive, so-so places stamped with celeb chefs’ names? Julia Moskin at the New York Times profiles three dueling critics who cover Vegas these days and who collaborate on a city guide called Eating Las Vegas: The 50 Essential Restaurants, now in its second annual edition. The critics, Max Jacobson of Vegas Seven, Al Mancini of Las Vegas CityLife, and John Curtas, who was formerly the critic for Nevada Public Radio, all have their favorite spots, which don’t necessarily have celebrity chef names attached.

There are many divided opinions about the food scene in Vegas. Yes, they’ve got a bunch of very expensive restaurants opened by chefs with four-star (and Michelin three-star) restaurants in other cities. But to the extent that those chefs really pay any attention to what’s being served there on the 360 days a year that they’re not in town, critics from outside the city have begun to be a bit more dismissive. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Michael Bauer penned a scathing report on a visit last year to L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, calling it a “no-star dinner.” And the Michelin folks gave up on the city after their 2009 edition, essentially because the quality of the restaurants was too inconsistent.

In an open thread with commenters on Diner’s Journal today, Mancini defends Robuchon as one of the few celebrity chefs who makes regular visits to his Vegas kitchen. But as for getting an objective opinion on the scene untouched by publicists’ perks and lavish free dinners, that may still be hard, as none of these guys is anonymous — particularly Mancini, who’s made the star of the piece, mostly because he has a big red mohawk and used to review strip clubs for a living. “Because most restaurants on the Strip are owned by hotel casinos,” Moskin notes, “the writers must navigate among the competitors and their publicity teams, who dole out access as carefully as truffle shavings.” We’re guessing they get their share of extra truffle shavings, all without asking.

A Rat Pack of Reviewers [NYT]
Al Mancini, Las Vegas Restaurant Critic, Is Answering Questions [NYT/Diner’s Journal]

Las Vegas: A Good Town to Be a Non-Anonymous Critic