I recently accepted my first paid food writing gig. A fair amount of work for very little pay, just how everyone should start out. It made me do something interesting though. I had to figure out how many restaurants I could truly say something nice about in this town. I came up with about 37 on the strip, and 17 off of it, just off the top of my head. I italicized "something" for a reason. Of these 54 restaurants, about eleven are going to cause me trouble to come up with the proper diction to make people really believe they shouldn't be avoided completely. The truth is, those eleven restaurants aren't bad, and some even have a Michelin Star, but in this town I have to hold restaurants to a higher standard than I would in, say, Fresno.
Fresno is not the restaurant city that Las Vegas is. That probably went without saying, but just in case you didn't know. That doesn't mean Fresno is lacking establishments which garner my praise on a regular basis, just not as many or as varied as here in Vegas. There are probably five Mexican restaurants there that beat out everything here. There is one Chinese restaurant that beats out everything here. There is an Italian place that could certainly hold its own (or trash the competition in the case of Zeffirino) in the Venetian itself. Their most widely known Mediterranean place is better than ours (Paymon's), and the chefs with their names on restaurants actually work in those restaurants. That being said, I can think of only about ten places off the top of my head about which I could find something nice to say based on my Las Vegas standards.
Does that mean writing about food is easier or harder in Las Vegas than in Fresno? Stupid question. Writing about food is never hard. But, in Las Vegas the opportunity to dress down a Food Network star is just as appetizing as giving the mom and pop place down the street the recognition it so deeply deserves and needs. In Fresno there are really only mom and pops and massive chains. The massive chains don't need your praise and won't suffer from your insults, while the mom and pops live and die by local perception.
So is it easier to write about food in Las Vegas? Definitely. With a higher density of amazing places there is more praise going around, the more everyday places become easier to malign, and the bad places easier to ignore. In a place like Fresno, where restaurants seem more a necessary evil than a way of life, the bar is much lower and it is the rare restaurateur that rises above it.
I know you're thinking good food is good food no matter the city. While that's true, there are different levels. Las Vegas probably isn't even in the top tier of restaurant cities. Mostly because it is located in a desert where nothing is really grown locally for wide consumption. That is actually good for my cause too, because it gives me something to fall back on when I can't find anything else to complain about, and it keeps some of the food savvy focused on the upper echelon cities while I'm free to make myself heard on the second rung. And while Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley feed much of the world with their produce, the restaurants consuming that produce locally are widely dispassionate about its use.
By moving to a city with a plethora of dining delights but not without its culinary issues, I made my life better in more ways than one. First, I always have something to write about. Second, I never have to cook for myself. And third, someone I don't even know might actually read this.
Brian William Waddell is a foodie, beer geek, and author. His numerous blog posts range from food to politics. He also has a book of poetry, Fractured Prose, available here, and is ready to publish his second poetic endeavor.