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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Viva Las Diet

January 15, 2007

Viva Las Diet

LAS VEGAS— So much for the diet. I was on a two-week roll with eight pounds lost, good eating habits formed, and metabolism ginning like a gnat’s— then came the Christmas present.

Christmas morning my wife gave me a trip to see the new Cirque de Soleil show based on the Beatles’ music here in the town that never sleeps.

An early Friday morning flight prompted me to book a Thursday night room near the French Quarter and a reservation at one of my favorite restaurants— and now Zagat’s favorite New Orleans restaurant— August. Your honor, it was sometime around 8:15 on the night in question that my diet was blown all to hell.

Chef John Besh’s able kitchen crew— a crew that helped him win a 2006 James Beard Award for Best Chef Southeast, and a spot on Gourmet magazine’s Top 50 restaurants in America— prepared a nine-course indulgence that was worthy of every accolade that restaurant has earned over its seven-year run.

The highlights at our four-top were mostly Besh’s signature items. The heirloom beet salad with crabmeat, mustard greens, black-eyed pea croutons, Allen Benton’s cherry wood smoked bacon, and a quail egg is an item I eat every time I dine in August. My wife’s favorite is the subtle, yet brilliant, gnocchi with lump crab and truffle. The agnolotti with chestnut sage butter and country ham and the sugar and spice duckling with grits, roasted foie gras, and quince brought to an end another perfect evening in one of the South’s greatest culinary treasures.

Note: Two weeks ago Chef Besh purchased the famed North Shore French institution, La Provence, from his former mentor Chris Kerageorgiou. I look forward to having a Besh-run restaurant 40 minutes closer to my hometown as we once did when he manned the stoves at Artesia in Abita Springs.

Back to the diet. I defy anyone to eat healthily in an airport. Sure they’ve got bananas, apples and a few muffins at the coffee kiosks, but those cinnamon roll chains guilefully lure avid calorie counters with the strong scent of cinnamon and vanilla that wafts through the air of every terminal. Between the Crescent City and Sin City it took every inch of will I could muster to fight back the desire to jump behind the Cinnabon counter and dive face first in the cinnamon rolls while rubbing pecan sticky buns all over my body. I ate carrot sticks, instead. Good for the eyes, yes, but the junk food joints certainly have the aroma advantage.

Our first meal in Vegas was at Chef Thomas Keller’s French bistro, Bouchon, another one of Gourmet’s Top 50, where I OD’d on bread, butter, and steak frittes. Later that night— sometime around 5 a.m.— after a Prince concert in his new nightclub 3121, I ordered chicken and waffles at an all-night breakfast joint.

I have always wondered about the chicken and waffle combination. Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles in Los Angeles institutionalized the chicken and waffle craze that started in Harlem in the 1930s. I have often driven past restaurants promoting chicken and waffles on their shingles, yet I have never eaten a serving ,and have never understood the appeal of those two seemingly opposite foods. Being somewhat of an adventurous diner— and having been awake for more than 25 hours at that point— I took a leap. It was at that point that I realized that my diet had not only ventured way off of the beaten path, but was headed down a the long and bumpy gravel road that leads to a guest spot on the next edition of The Biggest Loser.

Lucky for my waistline, the chicken and waffle offering was pretty bad due to a strange tasting syrup that was thicker than an Elvis impersonator’s waistline, so I ordered scrambles eggs and wheat toast and veered back onto diet’s main highway.

The next day brought fruit and toast from room service, a wonderful Moo Shu pork at a noodle house, and that day’s only dieting faux pas— a late-night pepperoni pizza after the Beatles Cirque de Soleil show.

I’m not a drinker, and I’m not a gambler, but I am a world-class eater. Las Vegas has slowly turned into one of the country’s top dining destinations. So much for “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

Waffle Batter

1 cup All Purpose Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 /2 tsp Salt
1 Tbl Sugar
1 Egg
1 cup Buttermilk
1 /4 cup Milk
1 /4 cup Melted Butter

Mix dry ingredients thoroughly. Gently add liquid ingredients including 1 /4 cup of butter, and stir until just incorporated. Do not overwork the batter.

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