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The Pupu Platters of My Past

by Jeff Sobel

I came to Vegas to live so long ago that the human referred to in the oldest known foodie pun was my contemporary. (You know: Q: What did the caveman call his roast beast? A: Primeval rib.) Speaking of rib roast, that was the primary star of the Vegas dining scene for decades. Most of the places I frequented in the 1960's and 70's are gone now; many of the hotels housing my favorites imploded.

Our idea of celebrity chefs were Bob Taylor or Angie Ruvo (of the original Venetian, first on Fremont Street, then on Sahara.) When Bob had his Ranch House it was all alone way out of town; now under different ownership it is surrounded by houses in the Northwest. Mr. Taylor prepared every meal and dispensed a limited menu of boneless steaks in a restaurant seating half what it does now.

For special occasions several generations favored the Alpine Village (first on the south Strip and then on Paradise near the Hilton, now a parking lot) where cottage cheese dip and homemade creamed chicken soup were served in pewter bowls and followed by an enormous main dish plus the miniature electric alpine ski lifts were adorable.

For "fine food" we had several hotel choices. The House of Lords was in the Sahara: menus on rolled parchment and the best prime rib and stuffed lobster in town. I knew it was near its end when the requirement for coat and tie was dropped and a fellow at the next table had on a muscle shirt. The Regency Room (at the Sands where the Venetian in now) was "classic French" as Vegas knew it then: Tournedos Rossini, Duckling a la Orange and Steak au Poivre. The Dunes (where the Bellagio now sits) had the Sultan's Table with Arturo Romero's strolling violinists: a dozen stringmen who played while you ate ethereally light quenelles and dessert soufflés. I knew it was in decline when the airy mousse of pike turned to golf ball density and the violins became so intrusive you couldn't talk.

There was no Emeril Legasse or Charlie Palmer or Wolfgang Puck, but we had restaurants like Thats Italian, the Green Shack, Poppa Gars and the Sabre Room at the Aladdin. Never again will I have barbecued spare ribs, a New York Steak and au gratin potatoes at 3:00 a.m. in the Garden Room at the Sands; or rum drinks until my vision blurred followed by pupu platters and Steak Teriyaki at the Polynesian restaurants, Don the Beachcomber at the Sahara and Aku Aku at the Stardust. But honestly: I willingly would trade them all (but not my fading memories) for one meal at Le Cirque, Picasso or Renoir.

Jeff Sobel is a longtime Vegas resident, a District Court Judge, and an Epicurean.


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