Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

February 11, 2009

Eating Las Vegas - 'Trouble With Encore'

Posted by Hunter

John Curtas is one of my favorite people writing about Las Vegas. His take on the Vegas food scene is always informative.

Curtas today posted a run down of some of his Encore experiences which are worth a read:

Now, I am no food critic. I have a fairly unsophisticated palette though I do enjoy food quite a bit. Having eaten at all of the restaurants in the post, while I cannot rebut any of the specifics, I will say that I would put Botero in the list of restaurants at Encore I would look forward to going back to. Both of my meals there were quite good, by my admittedly 'simple' standards.


Read archived comments (15 so far)
February 11, 2009 1:15 PM Posted by Tom M.

This is a great review. I am amazed at all the pictures that he takes. I find it interesting that he makes no attempt to hide who he is and yet the restaurants still fail to please him. I wonder if his standards are just impossibly high. While I don't consider myself a foodie, I do like gourmet food. I can't wait to get back to vegas and try some of these places out.

February 11, 2009 1:17 PM Posted by John H.

I really think I have to agree with Curtas. While Sinatra truly did blow my mind on opening night, I left Switch with a rather bland taste in my mouth. It was uninspired and sort of cheesy. The steaks were delicious, and less expensive than their cousins at SW and Country Club, but the numerous accoutrements--for me a steakhouse's mashed potatoes say almost everything that needs to be said about the quality of side dishes being served--are simply pedantic and uninspired. Switch's potatoes were good, but not nearly as mind blowing as the ones I delight in when I eat at the Country Club. And, in fact, even the appetizers simply leave something to be desired. It also doesn't help, as a small aside, when you're trying to enjoy a nice meal and an intimate conversation when you have about fifteen tourists standing outside of the restaurants window scenes, cameras ready to flash in your face the minute the "switch" begins.

How far, then, can a restaurant go as being both a tourist attraction and a den of haute cuisine? God knows that the Top of the World restaurant can't overcome its camp qualities and that the Eiffel Tower Restaurant is steeped in kitsch and uninspired food. Now, those two restaurants aren't in nearly the same category as Switch, but I think the point is still somewhat valid.

I'm planning on trying Botero, which I still have rather high hopes for, on my next trip in March. For what I've heard, it is good enough to steal a bit of the thunder away from the Wynn steakhouses, but I'll just have to see for myself.

February 11, 2009 2:01 PM Posted by chuckmonster

I read those earlier and have a bit of a different take on those joints than he did. I am a foodie, not a food critic, but I love being surprised and challenged by culinary excursions. I visit as many of the celeb chef joints as I can afford - from Gordon Ramsay's London in L.A., Collichio's Craft in LV & L.A., Batali, Boloud, Stratta and so on. I love to cook, and think cooking shows are better than porn and sports, combined.

My two visits to Society left me unsatisfied and shocked at the bill/satisfaction ratio. The food - other than the breads (which are made in the Wynn bakery, NOT at Society) - is well presented but just doesn't taste all that good. It's difficult to say exactly how it misses the mark... for 'home' cooking, it lacks the homeyness, for foodie cooking it lacks the flavor profiles and sense of adventure. My wife and I tried it twice and left full, but unsatisfied both times.

I haven't eaten at Wazuzu, but I spoke with the Chef for about 10 minutes about his concept - classic pan-Asian cuisine, minus the Asian fusion nonsense. I don't think he's trying to bend the rules at all, but instead serve up individual dishes that are true to what that cuisine's "mom" would make.

The concept for Switch is infinitely better than the artistic quality of execution... it's a gimmick and completely corny. That being said, I don't find it offensive, except when diners applaud after the 'switch'. The food and service at Switch was excellent, but not on par with ALEX or SW or Sinatra.

Botero left me a little mixed. My wife and I had problems deciphering the cryptic descriptions on menu and ended up with all sorts of dishes we didn't expect (not in a good way.) Some of it was dreamy, some of it was confusing. The service, atmosphere and the pastry chef were all excellent.

Sinatra is phenomenal. And know that it's not a spaghetti & meatballs Italian restaurant... there are echoes of it, but it's much much grander and weirder than that. I've been working on reviews of all of these since we visited and hope to post them in the next few weeks (with pics of course). Sinatra is slated for the next day or so.

February 11, 2009 6:58 PM Posted by mike_ch

I have to agree with him regarding Switch. It is no doubt the goofiest restaurant concept on the Strip since DIVE! closed and at least that one was a semi-cheap laugh. I have the most bland, chain food Americana tastes imaginable and yet the place looked like something I would enjoy. Which, as crazy as this may sound, is wrong.

Steaks served in a weird setting that somehow managed to get the okay from the county inspectors (although I wouldn't be shocked if they came back sometime now that they're getting serious.) I decided to withhold opinion as I thought the steaks might have something about them to set them apart but it sounds like the place is just steaks like any other.

I'm not sure why Steve Wynn hasn't really been able to pull off a compelling steakhouse since the original Kokomo's.

February 12, 2009 1:50 AM Posted by Dan

Please read the following, as I have posted on John Curtas' site, regarding Encore restaurants.

Reviews like this make me wish John Curtas will take food writing seriously. Much more seriously. By that, I mean doing the proper research on a restaurant before publicly speaking out his opinions.

This review isn’t close to what my experience has been. For this sole reason, I have to speak out about a portion of the review.

“Wazuzu=Nobu’s playbook??”
are you serious?….


are you serious?

“Tasteless pork larb??”
where exactly on the menu do they have pork larb???

“Pad Thai kon kaen that was likewise flavor (and spice)-free???”
is it really possible to have a pad Thai that is flavorless and spice free? I don’t think so. Did you ask for your pad Thai to be cooked without sauce? Maybe you did?? I challenge you to find a pad Thai anywhere in the world that is flavorless, including Wazuzu’s version.

“Shrimp Shumai that was mostly filler” ???
Listen….now you are pissing me off. When did a shumai become a shrimp shumai with mostly filling?? Traditionally, shumai is a Cantonese pork dumpling with pieces of chopped shrimp mixed in and steamed in a egg based pastry wrapper.

“The bottom line on Wazuzu: It’s trying to do so many different types of cuisine that it isn’t that flavor-faithful to any one of them.”
To make this statement, means you haven’t really gotten the point of what this restaurant is about. This is not an Asian fuision restaurant, whre the cuisines presented are mixed with confusing flavors. However, Wazuzu is a showcase for some classic and popular dishes found throughout Southeast Asia, China, and Japan.

I feel sorry for the staff at the restaurants in Encore. When the reviewer has a voice…and that voice is less knowledgable than the experts providing the experience, then what is this review really worth??


At the end of the day, the true job of a critic is to bring the reader into that particular restaurant’s “world” for a minute or two…however long the review lasts. You, being the voice of the Las Vegas food and dining scene since 1995…I challenge you to refresh your approach to reviewing and provide that experience for the readers who still remain loyal to your writing.

John, I do read your work. However, I am now tired of reading.


February 12, 2009 8:59 AM Posted by Mike P.

We decided to give Botero a try as our first Encore experience the other night since Tableau was our consistent favorite over at Wynn during Mark LoRusso's tenure there.

I'm afraid they almost lost us before we sat down. We walked in at 6:58 for our 7:00 reservation, checked in with the lovely young hostess who told us our table would be ready in 5 or 10 minutes. The restaurant at this point was less than half full. The lounge area was full, bordering on overflowing with all the bar seats taken. When we walked in we thought they just had a lot of walk in traffic, but no, just about everyone there had reservations and were being made to cool their heels in the lounge for no apparent reason. We stood around for a while, then grabbed a not very comfortable bench seat when one opened up, and finally got seated at 7:10. There weren't any cocktail waitresses in the lounge by the way, and I wasn't in the mood to walk up to the bar to try to get a drink, so they passed up a chance to extract some money out of us there.

Once we were seated the food and service just about redeemed the experience. For appetizers the wife had a mushroom tart that she thought was outstanding, and I had crab agnolotti, which I think was a fairly regular menu item at Tableau. That also was excellent. We decided to pass on steaks for main courses. Her rack of lamb and my "Kobe" (I'm guessing it was American Wagyu) short ribs were both fine -- no better or worse than you'd get at numerous other places on the strip though.

We recognized a few staff from Tableau: the maitre d' recognized us and came over to chat for a while, and our waiter had been a food server at Tableau. There were lots of kids running food and bussing tables, and they did a good job keeping water and iced tea glasses filled. Overall service was quite good, but it was quite a change from the rather sedate and formal style of Tableau.

I have to say if the delay in seating was an attempt to project an attitude of "hey, we know you can see all those empty seats but we're gonna make you wait anyway so you think we're doing you a favor by deigning to seat you at all," well that's not going to work. Not in this economy.

Overall I'd say we'd give Botero another try if we happen to be in the area at dinnertime for some reason. I wouldn't walk up from Bellagio again just to dine there. We glanced at the other restaurants while we were walking around, and really the only other one that tempts us is Sinatra. Maybe the cafe for lunch.

February 12, 2009 9:58 AM Posted by Tom M.

Mike P. Empty seats in a restaurant usually means that part of it is closed off, not that they are trying to big shot you. I am guessing that this is just another sign of the cutbacks that Wynn has had to make during the down time. On my second trip to Las Vegas, I really did get the "old vegas" treatment by a Maitre d' at a Flamingo restaurant. He sat me right next to the kitchen door when the whole restaurant was empty. I was alone, but I think he was just trying to get me to tip him for a better table. I was somewhat naive about how things worked at the time so I just sat down and ate my meal.

February 12, 2009 12:17 PM Posted by chuckmonster

@mtc "I'm not sure why Steve Wynn hasn't really been able to pull off a compelling steakhouse since the original Kokomo's."


February 12, 2009 1:32 PM Posted by mike_ch

Chuck: Nah, I'd rank Prime as a more interesting steakhouse than SW. At least at Prime you have the hoity-toity European decor going on (at least until it's ripped out for something modern.) SW is basically just a room, but one with a view of that snoozer lake thing.

Keep in mind, I'm not actually talking about food quality here. I'm talking about eye candy more than mouth candy.

February 12, 2009 5:20 PM Posted by Mike P.


There wasn't a section of the main dining room closed off. I don't know if there are any side rooms at Botero. I think you're right though. They were probably stretching out seating to give the kitchen and wait staff a chance to keep up. The place was actually pretty busy by 8:30 on Tuesday evening and they may have planned for a lighter crowd than they got.

That's the benign explanation anyway. I'm going to choose to believe it, since that's the one Encore restaurant I really want to like.

February 12, 2009 6:57 PM Posted by charlie

When Bellagio opened, a young Kerry Simon ran the kitchen and it was 'delicious'. One of the great Vegas restaurants - and yes, a compelling Steve Wynn steakhouse... it took the steakhouse concept to a new level... they even copied it more or less Time Warner Center in NY (aka City Center I).

As for the article, some fair criticism, but a little overboard. Encore is not even 2 months old.

February 13, 2009 8:00 AM Posted by Tom M.

By closed off what I meant was that they probably didn't have enough wait staff and were not seating part of the restaurant. Usually, they don't actually rope off the "closed" section, they just don't seat people at those tables. By the way, how many tables are in the restaurant in total?

February 21, 2009 12:53 PM Posted by Admin

I have eaten there and thought the food was great. I would definitely go back.

February 21, 2009 3:38 PM Posted by Greg

I just returned from a 4 day stay at Encore. During our stay we ate exclusively at Encore and Wynn restaurants. I have to say that Botero was a definitely the crowd favorite both in terms of prompt over-the-top service and outstanding food.

March 17, 2009 11:34 PM Posted by detroit1051

“Las Vegas is like the subprime mortgage market of restaurants,” says Elizabeth Blau.
Elizabeth Blau, who worked with Steve Wynn to bring many top chefs to Las Vegas and is a partner in four restaurants there, said that with restaurant business plunging since September, the market is being tested. Michelin-starred chefs, she said, are not the draw that they were a year ago.
“Las Vegas is like the subprime mortgage market of restaurants,” she said. “This may be a healthy correction.”