The Black Sheep has been getting rave reviews, so I had to pay this cozy neighborhood restaurant a visit. Marieta and I dined together on a busy Friday evening and were lucky to be seated at the last table available before the inevitable wait list began.
There are many things to love about The Black Sheep. There are also a few disappointments, admittedly more the result of my personal biases and clashes in tastes, rather than quality or service. In other words, if you’re into the trendy nouveau restaurant scene, you’ll probably like it more than I did.
First, the good things: The Black Sheep offers a marvelous variety of food and drink — from specialty cocktails ($9-12) to tasty appetizers ($5-16) to plenty of entrees with a unique flair ($15-25). There’s at least one item of beef, chicken, pork, and seafood to satisfy most tastes. I listed the price ranges because, as one can see, this is a surprisingly affordable place to dine out when compared with other contemporaries in this class.
Advertised as Vietnamese-American, this is the type of snooty restaurant one might expect on the Las Vegas Strip, at double the prices. However, The Black Sheep is far friendlier. It’s tightly nestled in the corner of an L-shaped storefront and conveys much more of a local’s feel, the perfect after-work meeting place, especially singles from the crowd we witnessed. On the night we dined, the clientele was almost exclusively comprised of younger professionals.
Marieta ordered the Slow-Cooked Short Rib with Yucca Gnocchi on a bed of Summer Squash Ratatouille. Her dish was stellar (I devoured a third of hers), and was a relative steal at just $20. The short rib was so tender, no knife was needed. The medley of beef, gnocchi, and ratatouille was divine.
My order consisted of something more simple — Rainbow Trout in a tasty vinegar sauce. I’m a Rainbow Trout fanatic, so wasn’t quite sure this would match my palate. However, the chef grilled the trout to absolute perfection, conveniently deboned, but also served with full head and tail. My only complaint about the food was my jasmine rice accompaniment was a bit too sticky and clumped badly. Still, I didn’t come here for the rice, so this was only a minor annoyance. Also of Note: The portions are not large. This is not a place to go if you savor a huge meal. Think of what you might expect in some fashionable Beverly Hills bistro, sans the attitude.
The Bad: What was annoying for me was the ambiance, which had several shortcomings. To be fair, The Black Sheep is a new hit spot, so it’s to be expected that the restaurant is already way too small for the crowds. That’s not a knock on the establishment, at all. Yet, while the culinary treats are ample, physical comforts are nonexistent.
For one thing, the spartan tables and chairs, dark concrete floor, and industrial loft look is certainly trendy, but also not the greatest atmosphere for a first date or casual conversation among friends. The restaurant is very loud, made worse by a sub-standard sound system playing music that’s indecipherable from the ambiance of 75 people within seemingly talking all at once. One of my major pet peeves is having to strain to hear the person next to me who’s talking in a normal tone of voice, even though my table mate was just 3-feet away. Many people obviously aren’t bothered at all by this. I don’t like it.
Another negative was the lighting, where The Black Sheep fails badly. Many Las Vegas restaurants are at a comparative disadvantage with dining establishments in other parts of the country. That’s because the sun here is often hot and blazing. While there’s nothing The Black Sheep can do much about 105-degree afternoons, they should do something about the front windows, which blasts in a headache-inducing glare. Since the restaurant is open 5-11 nightly (closed for lunch), blinding light is a big problem for diners who come in during the first few hours. The rest of the place is dark, while sun rays peer through the front like it’s a midnight drug bust. Sure, a small takeout joint can get away with this annoyance. An upscale restaurant of this quality cannot. Something needs to be done about those windows. At least — pull the drapes. No one wants to look out into a parking lot, anyway.
Here’s a stock photo (not taken during my visit) which shows the layout.
The service was excellent. Our host, waitress, and busboy all seemed to know a great deal about the restaurant, even though they’d been open only two months (at the time of this review). Staff were on top of every need and checked on us just enough to make sure we were happy without the constant hassle of interruption so often experienced at other places. Remarkably, our dinners came out in less than ten minutes. Not sure if this is routine, but the kitchen here can put out food quick — if needed. A somewhat limited main menu of about a dozen entrees probably speeds things up for the back of the house. Moreover, a smaller restaurant like this will rely on turnover in order to survive, so the quick service might be part of the standard plan.
So, I credit The Black Sheep on their affordable prices, excellent food, originality, and fast and efficient service. However, I slightly downgrade them for some problems with the decor and customer comforts.
Also note — Early Happy Hour runs from 5-6 pm with $5 wine, $4 craft beers, and $1 fresh oysters on the half shell. There’s also a late 10-11 pm Happy Hour for night owls.
Overall, this was a positive experience. I recommend The Black Sheep and give them a solid 7/10.
Based on the popularity of what’s become one of the hottest new spots in Las Vegas, reservations are strongly recommended.
Elia Authentic Greek Taverna is a new restaurant located on the west side of Las Vegas, just south of the intersection of Flamingo and Durango.
This location has been quite a tough sell for restaurauteurs and local foodies who fancy trying out new and creative ethnic cuisine. Previously, the sun-bleached strip-mall storefront has been the culinary graveyard of an upscale seafood eatery (closed in 2008) followed by Gino’s Italian Bistro (which closed last year). For those keeping score, that’s 0-for-2 — even though both prior places were well above-average restaurants that I enjoyed frequently (though apparently not frequently enough).
Elia likely stands a much better chance for success based on a number of reasons. First, the local economy is far better now, than a decade ago. Many popular upscale eateries in Las Vegas shuttered their doors following the economic crash of ’08, which now seems like a distant memory with all the mess going on right now. The surrounding area has changed also, with the most notable new neighbor being Mint Indian Bistro, which moved in directly behind Elia’s. Using the magnet marketing theory, the very best thing that can happen to restaurant struggling to create a steady clientele is having another creative dining force located right next door.
More belaboring a proven point, if I may. This area has been utterly flooded by Mediterranean restaurants over the last decade, at least in proportion to the local population, many who probably don’t know the difference between a falafel and kibbeh. Directly across the street, a nice Persian restaurant closed-down just three months ago. Half a mile to the north is Zaytoon, my favorite Iranian market-bistro here on the West Side. Even Putter’s Bar and Grill, a popular neighborhood pub about 200 feet away serves up tasty Lebanese food. Yeah, I know — Greek food isn’t the same as Lebanese or Persian food, but many Americans likely won’t see much of a difference in the basic ingredients. This is what makes Elia’s challenge all the more intriguing.
Elia is small, about what one might expect if vacationing on the islands of Kos or Crete. White tablecloths, perfectly manicured tabletops, and a sparkling clean interior are most welcoming. So was the house music, played at the perfect decibel level, which are mostly mandolin-heavy Greek instrumentals — a perfect background for table conversation. Even more welcoming is the friendly ownership and staff, which greets customers instantly. From the moment we walk in the front door, we are made to feel like their house guests.
What may be the best price-fixed menu in Las Vegas is available until 3 pm daily at Elia, and this made for an easy choice among lots of temptations to choose from. For $15, a three-course meal with various options is available. The courses include an appetizer or salad, a main course with potatoes, and a dessert. All for 15 bucks. That’s quite a bargain.
This might seem like a small thing, but it’s really a big thing. It often foretells of the experience to come, and that’s the bread. Many restaurants opt to go cheap in the bread, serving stale unimaginative dinner rolls or slices of white bread that are little more than caloric time-buyers intended to stave off customers until the main course arrives. Not Elia. Their bread was oven fresh, as good as any European bakery in the city. Pipping hot, laced with flour, crispy, and accompanied by an above-average ramekin of Greek olive oil. This was a very good sign.
Then, the first of three courses was served. We began with Keftedakia, which is essentially Greek meatballs (borrowing from the Turkish Kofta). Four were served on a platter with mint, onion, and parsley. I could have enjoyed this as a main course — yes, it was that satisfying. My three-course meal also included a marvelous Greek salad, though not of the standard creation one is typically used to at many Greek-American restaurants. Mine was made of immaculately chopped rocket lettuce, topped with a perfect seasoning of olive oil, zesty lemon, and mint, accompanied by a delicious block of feta cheese and black olives. Yummy.
The main course (e.g. the second course) was also satisfying, but not quite up to the glorious standards of both value and quality set forth in the appetizer (and finished with the dessert). I enjoyed my home-made gyro sandwich, which is pretty standard at all Greek establishments. To their credit, the meat wasn’t nearly as salty as I’ve tasted elsewhere. The yogurt sauce wrapped in the pita was delicious. Elia also serves fresh, hand-cut fries (not frozen) on the side, which merits applause. Again, this is a very minor critique, and can certainly be overcome by ordering one of many other Greek dishes available at lunch and dinner ( must return and try multiple items — perhaps worthy of a follow up report). If the bread and appetizer scored a 10, the main dish would scale an 8. As for the next course, I would give it an “11.”
Dessert was fabulous. I wolfed down my rice pudding, served in a cold cup, topped off with a generous dazzle of reddish cinnamon. Marieta enjoyed her fresh yogurt topped with a coulis of three fresh berries — raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. The rich creamy yogurt, which I’m not typically a fan of, was stunningly delicious. We fought over the last few bites. The tart topping of berries was as zestfully delightful as any five-star restaurant. I would call this simple, yet delicate Greek closer absolute perfection.
Our two three-course meals, with a drink and tip all came to $42 — a steal. Dinner prices are equally competitive, but are assuredly an even better value given all the alternative mediocre food served elsewhere by run of the mill chains which charge considerably higher prices and then cut on the quality. Give this place a try. Skip the stale old Applebee’s or abomination of Friday’s for a night, and live a little. You’ll be glad you did.
Elia receives my highest possible restaurant rating based on fast and friendly service, a comfortable atmosphere, authenticity, quality, and more than enough menu choices to keep me (and hopefully many readers) returning for more.
Tonight at midnight, it becomes legal to smoke marijuana in Nevada.
This new law which goes into effect a few hours from now is long overdue, and hopefully a harbinger of things to come in other states. I believe in the total decriminalization of (outlawed) drugs.
Let’s look at the hard facts. The “War on Drugs” has been a failure from the start. We’ve wasted billions of dollars in law enforcement and prosecution at every level. We’ve blown billions more on incarceration. We’ve ruined countless lives making non-violent drug violations every bit as harsh as murder and child sex crimes in some states. We’ve also seen many people killed on both sides of the law because of drugs.
I say the “War on Drugs” has failed because no one can possibly make a convincing case that it’s succeeded. Despite all the efforts — from law enforcement to education — the majority of Americans have tried illegal drugs at least once. If that’s not a failure, I don’t know what is. When hundreds of billions are blown fighting a pointless war with zero tangible results to show for it and still more than half the country ignores the law, what’s the point?
I’ve been asked to attend a few “Light Up” parties tonight here in Las Vegas. One of my closest friends even wants me to write about his gathering of lucky invitees who will all get to imbibe in a secret stash that’s equivalent of popping the cork on a rare bottle of 1962 Chareau Lafite Rothschild. Another associate suggested that actually I smoke marijuana for the first time and then document my experience as though I’m some poor man’s Timothy Leary.
Surprising as this news might be to many, I’ve never tried any illegal drug (other than moonshine — does that count?). I’ve never had any desire to smoke, snort, nor inject. I have my own reasons for this position, which I’ve conveyed in my past writings. Nonetheless, this personal opinion about what’s best for me doesn’t preclude me to issue judgments towards others who may have quite a different view. This is what’s called freedom and individual responsibility. To each his (or her) own.
I love to drink and make no apologies. I also know alcohol is a far deadlier vice than marijuana. On this there is no debate. About 10,000 people die per year because of drunk drivers. The number of injuries and amount of property damage caused by drinking is considerably higher. Then, there are the needless brawls at public gatherings, the abusive marital relationships worsened by alcohol, and the general lethargy caused by drinking which probably makes this our most costly social addiction (except perhaps for guns).
So, what happens when we legalize marijuana? Even for the “let’s legalize drugs” crowd, the results are pretty shocking.
A new study found that the number of traffic deaths declined in states where marijuana was legalized [REUTERS STORY HERE]. Traffic deaths declined! One can speculate as to the reasons why there’s an apparent contradiction between changing laws and expectation. Perhaps many users who would otherwise drink to excess are now smoking marijuana instead, which doesn’t necessarily inhibit operating a motor vehicle. Maybe the worst that happens is the stoners fall asleep at traffic lights. Maybe they’re too busy waiting at the drive-thru at In-and-Out Burger. I don’t know. But the statistics don’t lie.
So, who does lie? Well, the Attorney General of the United States of America — for one. Jeff Sessions is now ordering tougher drug sentences for offenders. That’s right. President Trump’s point man on criminal justice is taking us back to the bad old days of prohibition. He’s returning to the failed policies of “Just Say No.” All research shows this to be not just the wrong approach. It will also waste more money. It will clog up the overburdened courts. It will lock up more people needlessly. It will break up families. It will waste money we do not have to waste [READ MORE HERE IN THE ECONOMIST].
We have truly reached the point where society is turned completely upside down. We have responsible marijuana users who have been proven to cause little or no harm to society, nor to themselves. We also now have an Administration and a federal government determined to prosecute and punish these people. It’s madness.
June 30th, at least for one night and for a little while until the heavy hammer comes down, Nevada will join the ranks of progressive states with modern, science and fact-based 21st Century outlooks on drug laws. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration intends to take us back to the failed drug polices of the past.
This is yet another policy position that is both stupid and utterly indefensible.
READ MORE: I strongly recommend reading “Race and the Drug War,” which details the vast disparity of justice based on race and income.
FOLLOW THE DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK HERE.Read More
If you’e on the prowl for shitty barbecue, may I respectfully suggest the ghastly catacomb of rotting animal flesh which fronts the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, better known as Gilley’s Saloon, Dance Hall, and Barbecue.
This might be the worst restaurant on The Strip — including the hot dog hustler parked out in front of Pawn Stars 24/7. If there’s a more dire dive of disappointment in this city — I’ve yet to succumb to such culinary depths. Virtually everything about Gilley’s sucked — from the utterly flavorless incarceration masquerading as a main course, to the scatterbrained service staff which can generously be described as uninformed and indifferent to every customer necessity and desire. Did I mention yet that I didn’t particularly care for the place?
I’m just getting warmed up.
Allow me to elaborate, and even go on a bit of a rant.
Two of us
wasted blew spent $110 (with tip). Still, we left hungry as toothless wolves. Mind you, we weren’t enticed by any more of the tasteless travesty plopped upon our table at Gilley’s — just famished for anything for fucks sake, even that stale hot dog down the street that sure as shit would have hit the magic spot after 90 minutes inside Gilley’s pushing my food back and forth across the plate like I was playing chess. We ordered one adult beverage each (one domestic beer and a house margarita). So, subtract standard gratuity and two drinks, and the food still came out to about $35 a piece. For half that figure, a five-minute drive could have landed us instead at Rollin’ Smoke Barbecue, a heap of picnic-tables nestled on an industrial strip crammed under a busy interstate, which are the local experts at feeding the hungry for $16 a lip-smacking plate, complete with all the delicious trimmings (and no tipping required). Live and learn. Sometimes, you don’t get what you pay for. Sometimes you just get fucked.
Seriously. How do you royally screw up good ole’ Texas barbecue, when that’s supposedly the house specialty? You’ve got one job, people. Do your job. Good grief, how can someone actually put his (real) name on this place?
Of course, Gilley’s was never known for the food. It’s more like a poor-man’s pick-up joint for shit kickers driving Chevy trucks worth more than their mobile homes. Long neck beer bottles, $24 t-shirts, mechanical bulls mounted by drunk girls wearing thin-string bikinis — a sort of contrarian “we don’t give a shit” Times Square-South tourist trap where you expect to be fucked in the ass without the grease and pay twice the going rate for the privilege — that’s Gilley’s in one sharp spur of a sentence.
Gilley’s was created by country-western singer Mickey Gilley (who apparently is still alive according to his Wikipedia page and deserves to be charged with crimes against humanity for opening this abomination). The bar and saloon first achieved fame in 1980 as the filming location for the hit movie “Urban Cowboy,” starring John Travolta, back when he was still the cute feather-haired Kotter kid and long before he turned into a psycho for the cult of Scientology. The Houston suburb of Pasadena instantly became the Gilley’s flagship property and turned the notoriety of a brawling backroom brimming with barstools into a bustling multi-million dollar business, ala a Hard Rock Cafe for the country music crowd. Years later, the (now imploded) Frontier Hotel and Casino housed Gilley’s initial venture into Las Vegas. Then, following a six-year void when Gilley’s was demolished into dust and the last remnants of the mechanical bull had been trucked off to a garbage dump in Pahrump, Giley’s rebooted and 2.0 opened just as short walk away, at TI.
Our first hint of the disaster to come should have been as clear as the gorgeous 75-degree day. Gilley’s front room was only about one-third filled to capacity during what should have been the busiest time of the week — 6:30 on a Saturday night. When it comes to restaurants, if empty tables in prime time could talk, they usually scream — this place sucks!
Gilley’s is divided into two sections — a honky-tonk dive bar corded off towards the rear with a giant concrete dance floor and the famous bucking mechanical bull. All this looked about as appealing as standing out in a parking lot watching someone change a flat tire. I can’t imagine the unfathomable experience of spending a Saturday night (or any night of my life) sardined in-between line dancers of cowboy-hatted and belt-buckled yahoos guzzling Coors Light like it’s tap water at $7 a pop with a line stretching to the flooded urinal like Garth Brooks was playing a free concert inside. Not my thing. Then again, I didn’t come for the bull. I came for the pork.
To be fair, Gilley’s does have at least one redeeming aesthetic quality, which is it’s ideal location. It’s perfectly situated near the corner of Las Vegas Blvd. and Sands Blvd. — across the street from the Wynn, the Venetian (which continues to be boycotted), and Fashion Show Mall. Giant plate-glass windows looking out onto The Strip makes for prime people watching, although by the time I’d begun ingesting my sad excuse of a meal, those on the outside had become the object of my envy.
Full barbecue dinners with multiple meat options plus two side dishes range in price from $28.95 up to $55.95 (for fucking barbecue!). Fortunately, as things turned out, less turned out to be more. We both ordered the economy portion ($28.95), which was a blessing in disguise since the ribs (and side dishes) were so inexplicably bland, my taste buds seemed to numbed by an overdose of Novacane. What happened to the flavor?
Indeed, there was something mighty peculiar about the pork ribs I ordered. They weren’t salty. They weren’t spicy. They weren’t sweet. They were sort of like — nothing. Like something unearthed at an archaeological dig and tossed into a plate. The pork ends resembled a grizzled jerky. The barbecue sauce was so astonishingly flavorless that I did a first — hopelessly attempting to salvage the dining disaster by doctoring the sauce up with a shot of Tabasco. How to describe the taste? Think of boiled cafeteria-style ribs where every sliver and ounce of flavor was completely eviscerated out of the poor unfortunate animal which gave up its miserable life for the abomination of this appalling dining experience.
If the pork ribs were a disaster, then the baked beans turned out to be a magic show of disbelief. Advertised on the menu as marinated in a zesty barbecue sauce and baked in molasses, the (canned?) beans could have possibly salvaged at least a star on my Trip Adviser review had they been the least bit tasty, or edible. Not that I’m familiar with prison food on a firsthand basis, but those beans belonged in Leavenworth. Slaves in chains eat tastier fare. After two bites, and a napkin of mush, I gave up on the beans and pretty much knew the entire meal was a disaster.
One thing you sure have give to Southerners is — they usually know good food. They (we) especially know good barbecue. It’s just part of our DNA. Just like you can’t open up a shitty Chinese restaurant in San Francisco or a lousy cheesesteak grill in Philadelphia and expect to stay in business, how Gilley’s has the balls to bill itself as the place for authentic Texas-style barbecue is jaw dropping. Then again, if Guy Fieri can bill himself a master chef in this town, perhaps any fiction can be fabricated as fact.
Oddly enough, in some places the food really sucks but the service can partially compensate for a bad meal. That’s happened to me — more times that I can recount, unfortunately. Not this time, however. You’ve got to really hand it to Gilley’s. At least they’re consistent. We were seated at the farthest possible table away from the entrance, despite plenty of available seats much closer to the front. Once the bored waitress dressed in a cowboy hat and ass-kicking boots appeared with an accent that sounded like she was from Connecticut, things quickly went down hill from there.
For starters, I asked our server about a rib recommendation, eager for something that resembled Tony Roma’s — which has long been the gold standard for baby backs. Well, our waitress had never heard of Tony Roma’s, a terribly bad sign that immediately disqualified her as our resident expert on rib commendations. Next, when I asked for a baked potato — standard fare in any respectable barbecue joint, especially with a Texas theme — I came up rolling snake eyes. “We don’t have baked potato,” she snapped. Silly me, expecting something so goddamned simple as a baked potato to be on the menu.
I opted instead for (jail) beans, plus a side of onion rings. Unlike the Bloomin’ Onion, a crispy oil-infested heart-stopping delight of debauchery served at Outback Steakhouse which are absolutely terrible for you, but which are about as short-term joyous as a hit of crack cocaine, my Gilley’s onion rings must have come straight from the deep freezer to the heat lamp. Holy mother of god — even the onion rings were bland! How is this even possible? How do you murder the flavor out of onions? As for other customary accompaniments in many rib joints, no bread was served. There was no complimentary appetizer. Nothing. The waitress even forgot to bring a lemon for the iced tea.
I’m not quite finished yet. Another bitch about Gilley’s — no bibs. Baby bibs are typically provided by any respectable establishment specializing in ribs. That way, the front of your shirt doesn’t end up looking like a Jackson Pollock painting. Bibs are especially critical in popular rib restaurants where men wear ties. Every restaurant in Memphis and New Orleans offers a bib to patrons. Nothing ruins a tie faster than a blotch of reddish barbecue sauce.
After my third rib and second spill upon my yellow shirt, I glanced up at my sad-looking dinner companion and mumbled — “hey, this isn’t very good, is it?” Wanting to be polite and no where near the asshole I can so often be, he just looked shrugged his shoulders and explained that he was really, really hungry. I felt like I’d enlisted in the fucking Army.
After this torment of a meal was over, we dutifully paid our check, left a most undeserved 20 percent gratuity, and then bolted for the front door. Despite walking past several employees who were standing around, including a hostess podium staffed by Gilley’s girls who seemed bored out of their skulls, no one bothered to say, “thank you,” or “please, come back again.”
Then again, don’t bother with the customary salutations. We won’t be back again.
Gilley’s really fucking sucks.