A few times a year, when a friend or family member who shares my passion for food visits Las Vegas, I take them on a culinary tour. I arrogantly pat myself on the back for bringing them to the best restaurants, recommending the signature dishes, sharing the history of the chef and the locale and, on occasion, giving them a tour of the kitchen. I, after all, am a Las Vegas food expert, and accompanying me on such a tour is as good as it gets. Or so I thought. Then I dropped in on a Lip Smacking Foodie Tour.
The company’s president and my guide for the evening was Donald Contursi. He’s one of only a handful of people in this town who can battle me factoid for factoid over obscure Las Vegas dining trivia. When a server at Jaleo made the mistake of describing José Andrés’ technique as “molecular gastronomy,” he and I were probably the only people at the table who knew that the chef despises that term. Moreover, as we traveled from Aria to the Cosmopolitan to Paris Las Vegas, Contursi was replete with information on the art and architecture we passed. Simply put, the dude knows his shit. And the 11 people on my tour were extremely impressed. Moreover, Contursi makes all of his tour guides memorize a syllabus of virtually every bit of knowledge accessible on each restaurant they visit.
Contursi worked as a server for more than 12 years at hot spots including STK, Social House, RM Seafood, Gordon Ramsay Steak, SushiSamba and Botero. The idea for hosting tours came to him when he returned to his native Chicago with a foodie girlfriend who wanted to learn about deep-dish pizza. “I noticed they had deep-dish pizza tours, which I thought was a fantastic idea,” he recalls. “This way you don’t have to argue back and forth about [whether] Giordano’s is better than Gino’s East—you get to try them all. And you don’t have to spend all the money for the big pie. And you don’t have to wait 45 minutes for each pizza to cook.”
While Lip Smacking Foodie Tour offers similarly specialized tours here in Las Vegas and will even create a custom tour to suit your specific appetite, the one I attended was more general. We began with Michael Mina’s newest restaurant, Bardot Brasserie, and progressed to Aria’s perennial favorite Sage, then Jaleo and Milos in the Cosmopolitan, and ended at the artisanal chocolate palace Hexx, in Paris. At each spot we had nearly all of the signatures I would have recommended: escargot Bardot, foie gras custard brulée, the Milos Special, Ferran Adrià liquid olives, a chocolate tasting, and a chance to drink cocktails from a porrón. And that’s just scratching the surface. There was more food than any of us could handle. And to make things special, Contursi arranged for a Bohemian absinthe presentation for a bachelorette and a lesson in the Hexx kitchen on how chocolate is made.