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DECEMBER 2014
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Take 5
Dec. 21, 5-7p. Youth choirs from around Las Vegas will be singing for this celebration of Chanukah with menorah lighting. Visit the website to see...   
Dec. 20, 10a-10p; Dec. 21, 10a-6p. Two days and nights of emerging artists, musicians and "edu-tainment," including more than 70...   
Dec. 12-13 and 18-20, 7p; Dec. 14 and 21, 2p. All the elements from the beloved motion picture are here, including the family's temperamental...   
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WHO ARE WE to decide what's the best in food, arts, entertainment and more in Las Vegas?

Glad you asked.

We're native Las Vegans burning to tell the world about the hometown favorites we grew up with. We're fresh transplants quick to embrace the valley's vibrant culture. We're passionate know-it-alls -- about everything from bread to ballet to buildings.

But don't take our word for it. Dive into our Best of the City. You're in for a good time. Actually, the best time.

FOOD + DRINK

Bread
For the best bread in Vegas, head to the MGM Grand. Pastry Chef Kamel Guechida of Joel Robuchon and L'Atelier has assembled a staff of six bakers who create 18 breads exclusively for those two restaurants, as well as breakfast pastry for The MGM Mansion and Skylofts. They work in shifts in their own private bakery from 3 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, constantly tweaking their recipes based on the outside temperature and humidity. That science translates into delicious art. Their creations include an epis bread made with bacon and mustard, gruyere and comte brioche, as well as luscious olive rolls. At Robuchon, which boasts 17 of the bread varieties, you'll make your selection from a rolling bread cart, after which a server removes your choice and warms it before delivering it to your table with a buerre barrate butter from France's Brittany region. The experience will make you see bread as so much more than just the stuff that holds sandwiches together. - Al Mancini
[MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd S., www.mgmgrand.com]

Pub crawl for visiting friends
From the frat bro to the bohemian, East Fremont Street covers it all. Start with Jell-O shots (as the college atmosphere dictates) at Micky Finnz, and end at the Beat Coffeehouse, where you can either get coffee (as prior alcohol consumption may dictate) or have a nightcap off their beer and wine menu. In between, with the Downtown Cocktail Room's Green Fairy and the Vanguard Lounge's Ripper duking it out in your stomach, head to the Griffin, Beauty Bar and Don't Tell Mama for stimulating conversation, soothing beers and a digestive sing-along, in that order. Best part of this crawl? With mere feet between any two stops, you can actually do it on your hands and knees, which just might be necessary. - Heidi Kyser

Meat
Reviewers unanimously rave about butcher and barbecue shop John Mull's Meats, which - true to its hidden gem status - is actually so hard to find and unexpected looking, that you wonder if you're in the wrong place once you've gotten there. The payoff: cut-to-order meats at reasonable prices for humans, and femur bones at $1.49 per pound for Spot. Woof! - H.K.
[3730 Thom Boulevard, 645-1200]

Table salsa
Perhaps you've forgotten about Frank & Fina's Cocina since the homey, family-run Mexican kitchen moved from its downtownish Charleston Boulevard hut to the vast Grand Canyon retail center near the western Beltway. I haven't. And they haven't changed their recipe for fresh homemade salsa, the perfect midpoint between smooth and chunky, the perfect balance of cool, crisp vegetables and slow-to-set heat. Let's admit it: Our city is full of boring Mexican food. A great salsa can make all the difference. Much of the menu at Frank & Fina's - chili rellenos, vegetable taquitos, tilapia tacos - lands a little lighter than the competition. You'll appreciate that fact after devouring bowl upon bowl of fresh, warm corn chips, your fingers unable to stop obsessively spooning this addictive salsa into your happy face. - Brock Radke
[4175 S. Grand Canyon Drive 100, 579-3017, www.frankandfinascocina.com]

Thai restaurant

NATIVE VS. NEWBIE: Andrew Kiraly and Dorian Issock square off on the city's best Thai

ANDREW KIRALY
"Oh my god. I bet I look like that guy with the melting face at the end of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,'" said my friend. Beneath the glistening cataract of sweat and tears formerly known as his face, I detected a smile. Ah, Komol's celebrated mushroom tom kha soup works its magic once again.

Lest I give the impression that Komol is all about putting a culinary flamethrower in your mouth: It's not. But that's the thing. Whatever spice level you choose, Komol's cuisine, from its piquant papaya salad to the earthy, almost smoky shrimp panang to its Platonically ideal pad thai, boasts a level of impeccable default savor I've never encountered at any other Thai restaurant in town. It speaks of love, sweat and family tradition.

Oh, and check out the menus: They're made of wood and look like a sorcerer's tomes. But rest assured the only magic going on at this Thai mainstay is the good kind.
[953 E. Sahara Ave, Suite E-10, 731-6542, www.komolrestaurant.com]

Native cred: Andrew Kiraly spent much of his twenties fueling up at Komol for a night at now-defunct 24-hour arcade Mary K's next door.

DORIAN ISSOCK
Lotus of Siam is hidden away in the funky Commercial Center with its persistent green and white fluorescent glare. Don't let its secret cover fool you, though. One telltale sign that made me suspect I may have found the Holy Grail of Thai in my newly adopted home: Discovering that Lotus of Siam offers, on request, a special Northern Thailand menu, where you'll find regional dishes usually not found in the Western hemisphere. One of my favorite specialties is A Nua Dad Deaw, a spicy and savory beef jerky done Issan style. Another is Nua Sao Renu, charbroiled beef with a spicy tamarind sauce. Lotus of Siam also offers Thai dishes that aren't found on any menu, such as Prawns Ocha, a unique, crispy-fried garlic shrimp dish that strikes a balance between traditional Thai spices with a delicate crunch. Warning: The food off the Northern Thailand menu is especially spicy. But brave the unknown - and the spice - and you'll see traditional Thai food in a brand new green- and white-tinged, fluorescently enhanced light.
[953 E. Sahara Ave. Suite A5, 735-3033, www.saipinchutima.com] Newbie cred: Born in France and raised in SoCal, Dorian Issock looks forward to exploring what else Commercial Center has to offer. He's currently being sized for a hazmat suit for his first excursion to the Green Door.


Non-ethnic vegetarian food
Set aside the Asian, Indian and Mediterranean restaurants offering tofu and veggie dishes, and it's slim-pickings for Vegas vegetarians. Filling this void is Red Velvet Café, where you can substitute vegetarian meats (veats?) and soy cheese (choyse?) in any of the bagel melts, paninis, pizzetas, sandwiches and wraps on the menu. There's also a lengthy selection of vegan goodies, including vegan ice cream and 50-calorie chocolate chip cookies you would swear leave butter on your fingers. - H.K.
[7875 West Sahara Ave., www.redvelvetcafelv.com]



Tea Lounge

Tea
If you're not into donning Victorian gloves and hat or sitting in a circle sucking on a hookah pipe, your only other option for real tea in Las Vegas is ... actually a good one. The Mandarin Oriental Tea Lounge, in the Sky Lobby on the 23rd floor, is for people who not only know the difference between a Pu-Erh and an Oolong, but also the temperature of the water each should be steeped in. And for the English crowd, it does serve traditional afternoon tea, complete with finger sandwiches and Devonshire cream, from 2:30 to 5 p.m. every day - no costume required. - Heidi Kyser
[3752 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 590-8888, www.mandarinoriental.com]

Non-Chinatown foodie crawl
This is my neighborhood. I may be biased. But take a look around - do you have what I have? In between Rainbow Boulevard, Cheyenne Avenue, Rampart Boulevard and Summerlin Parkway, there's impressive diversity and solid eats all around. Fine French food in a lovely lakeside setting at Marche Bacchus and its neighbor, Garfield's. Classic Italian neighborhood restaurant with a well-traveled chef at Parma Pastavino & Deli. Old school deli? Check: Bagel Café. Terrific Thai? Try a double dose with Pin Kaow and the new Nittaya's Secret Kitchen. I've got above-average burgers and pizza right next door to each other, in Smashburger and Northside Nathan's. I've even got a crazy dude slinging Korean tacos from a parking lot lunch truck, the tasty HanShikTaco. I've got it all over here in Old Summerlin, and I'll put my 'hood up against yours any day of the week. - B.R.

Yard House

Beer menu
Since opening a second bustling location at the Red Rock Casino Resort Spa, Yard House is making at least twice as many people happy with its solid pub grub, lively scene and seemingly infinite selection of brews on tap. What's best about this monstrous list is how easy it is to navigate; you won't be intimidated when making your choice (or, let's be honest, choices). You can be sampling a premium fruity Petrus blonde ale and totally switch over to something strong and spicy like Trois Pistoles, and the bartender won't even make fun of you. In fact, he may recommend a dessert such as the chocolate-raspberry-cake-ish stylings of Lindeman's Framboise. They're all among the ever-changing, never-ending draft rotation at Yard House, and you can even check online before you go to see whether they're pouring your favorite. - B.R.
[11011 W. Charleston Blvd., 797-7777 (inside Red Rock Casino Resort Spa); 6593 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 734-9273 (Town Square), www.yardhouse.com]

Tableau Secret Strip brunch
The Wynn/Encore complex is one of Strip's top culinary destinations, no matter the time of day. While foodie tourists flock to Wynn's Country Club for Sunday jazz brunch or Café Society Encore for comfortable, weekend-friendly fare, the quiet, elegant Tableau in the Tower Suites is overlooked. The service is excellent, the wasabi Bloody Mary is brain-smashing, and the fresh pastries and baked goods cannot be missed. Duck vol-au-vent is the best tweaked benedict of all time, succulent confit in a flaky pastry tower with scrambled eggs and a rich sauce too good to be condemned by the name hollandaise. Fig and almond brioche French toast? Peach and pecan ricotta pancakes with cinnamon butter? You're going to need extra coffee for those. The food is so good and the room so pretty, I regret writing to you about it. I would rather not share my Tableau. - B.R.
[3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 770-3330, www.wynnlasvegas.com]

Best restaurant closest to John Curtas' house
There are so many things about Anthony & Mario's Broadway Pizzeria that chap my critic's conscience. They've never met a noodle they couldn't cook to death; clams from a can seem mandatory; and cheese (sometimes of questionable quality) gets poured over everything but the spumoni. But, for 16 years now, it gets my everyday pizza, pasta and wings business whenever a craving hits.

Because there are many things to like about this neighborhood joint. The meatball hero is a thing of beauty. Ditto the sausage and peppers which, like their house-made garlic knots, will have you eating much more of these carbo- bombs than are good for you. Their marinara sauce won't send Scott Conant back to his cookbooks, but it's plenty serviceable, thick and chunky. And while almost every pizza is overloaded with just about every ingredient imaginable, and every order of wings is a crap shoot over how overcooked they'll be, there's something refreshingly old school about how cheesy, doughy and caloric everything is. Because of those calories, Broadway Pizzeria is also very special to me for a very un-Vegasy reason: I can walk to it. - John Curtas
[840 South Rancho Drive, 259-9002]

Valley Cheese and Wine
Wine-tasting event
From a global pinot noir sniff-and-swirl, to an all-Australian day, to a panoply of summer wines - all paired with superior cheeses and charcuterie - Valley Cheese and Wine's wine tastings are the city's best. Led by uber-wine guy/owner Bob Howald, the weekly event (Fridays 4-7 p.m., Saturdays, noon-7 p.m.) attracts such wino celebs as Randall Graham from Bonny Doon or Robert Sinskey, who hawk their wares and raise everyone's wine IQ. Cheese tastings (paired with the wines of the day) also figure in, ensuring everyone "Cantal" a Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk from a Bellwether Farms San Andreas. In "Kase" you didn't know, trading cheesy puns with Howald's wife Kristin is thrown in for free, making these tastings as "Gouda" as it gets. (Ouch!) - J.C.
[770 W Horizon Ridge Parkway, 341-8191, www.valleycheeseandwine.com]

Vegan dish that even carnivores would enjoy
You want to see yours truly head for the hills faster than you can say "wheat grass with bean sprouts"? Then mention anything vegan or vegetarian as a dining option. That is, until Steve Wynn recently put vegan offerings on all of the Wynn/Encore menus. Until he put his chefs to the test, most dishes of this ilk were made by people with "fear of food." Now, such innovative chefs as Alex Stratta, Paul Bartolotta, David Spero and David Walzog are putting their considerable talents behind entire tasting menus of everything from lip-smacking truffled arancini to Tuscan vegetable soup to sautéed seasonal mushrooms. Of all of the offerings I've tried, it is Walzog's orange-braised fennel with celery root puree and pea vines at Lakeside Grill that made me drop my fork in appreciation. Sweet, earthy and orangey, it is the apotheosis of fennel. And it's so good you'll forget that it's good for you. - J.C
[Inside Wynn Las Vegas, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S., 248-3463, www.wynnlasvegas.com]

KNOW-IT-ALL: Expert Gina Gavan on the best local produce

Fresh, healthy and clean - not the usual words you'd use to describe a road trip to Pahrump. However, that drive leads you to the mothership of tomatoes and to the greenhouse of Hy-Desert Produce. And it really looks like a mother ship: Hy-Desert's enclosed dome can produce 20,000 pounds of tomatoes and cucumbers in the middle of a no-man's land. Hy Desert's father-son duo use a pesticide-free approach and grounded sensibilities to ripen the flavorful produce and to diligently perfect the heirloom varieties preferred by chefs. The two most popular varieties, the Clarence and Tradiro, offer big, sharp and memorable flavors. No road trip necessary: Select your own mouth-watering tomatoes every Thursday at the Molto Vegas Farmers Market (www.betonthefarm.com), a hotbed for honest food. - Gina Gavan
[1650 Jarvis Road, Pahrump, (775) 751-6688]

She should know: Gina Gavan is founder of Project Dinner Table, a monthly dinner gathering that promotes community, philanthropy and local food.


Dessert
There's something about the crisp, caramelized exterior of canneles that gives way to the soft, subtly sweet custard within that is both haunting and addictive. Top it off with some dense, house-made gelato and a caramel tuile, and something magical happens with every bite - a confluence of almost-burnt crunch yielding to a warm, interior richness being bathed in melting cream. That's the very definition of a dessert's whole being greater than the sum of its parts. SAGE pastry chef Lura Poland credits top toque Shawn McClain with coming up with the idea of reviving this 18th century French dessert. No matter whose idea it was, bite into one of them and you'll be hooked for life. - J.C.
[Inside Aria at CityCenter, 3730 Las Vegas Blvd., 877-230-2742, www.arialasvegas.com]



Julian Serrano Tapas (in a city suddenly flooded with tapas)
Every place from cocktail bars to steakhouses now features a grazing menu. But whether they're called small plates, share plates, tasting portions, cicchetti, apps or tapas, the Spanish did them first - and still do them best. And until Jose Andres makes his mark with Jaleo, all tasty tapas in Vegas will take a back seat to those at Julian Serrano. Whether it's a simple plate of patatas bravas (fried potatoes with tomatoes and mayo) or his seared, sesame-crusted "molecular" tuna topped with raspberries, everything from this kitchen packs a flavor punch (and demonstrates superior technique) far beyond those of most pretenders - something most obvious in two of the most pedestrian but ethereal dishes on the menu: albondigas con tomate (meatballs in tomato sauce) and frites with fried egg and chorizo. - J.C.
[Inside Aria at CityCenter, 3730 Las Vegas Blvd., 877-230-2742, www.arialasvegas.com]



Twist Best restaurant to splurge at once a year
For some, a memorable, big-deal meal demands pristine seafood a la RM Upstairs or Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare. For others, nothing less than a great steak (Carnevino or CUT) or intensive-care French (ALEX, Joel Robuchon, Le Cirque or Guy Savoy) will do. Beautiful scenery helps (Eiffel Tower Restaurant), as does impeccable cooking (Valentino), a seductive room (SAGE), or once-in-a-lifetime ingredients (BAR MASA).

Take the best of these, put them on the 23rd floor of the Mandarin Oriental - with a fabulous view of CityCenter and the Strip - and mix in some of the most innovative cooking on the planet, and you have Twist by Pierre Gagnaire. Desert Companion Chef of the Year Pascal Sanchez never fails to astonish and amuse, whether it's with langoustine five ways, or John Dory poached in black pepper butter. Everything on the menu is designed to pleasantly upend your ideas about how to accent and present the main ingredient. Not as classically French as Savoy, or as serious as Robuchon, Twist is both avant-garde and comfortable - in short, gastronomic heaven. - J.C.
[Inside Mandarin Oriental, 3752 Las Vegas Blvd. 888-881-9367, www.mandarinoriental.com]

Coffee

NATIVE VS. NEWBIE: Ryan Reason and Glenn Truitt face off over who's got the city's best java

RYAN REASON
Look, I like a venti-soy-half-caf-almond foam with a twist of lemon as much as the next metrosexual. But sometimes, all you really want is a cup of coffee. No place in town serves up old-school joe like Tiffany's Cafe inside White Cross Drugs. Rich and dark like Bruce Wayne, full-bodied and powerful like Wonder Woman, this coffee may just save your world. Drive by day or night, and you'll find no fewer than three cabs parked outside - and if anybody knows good coffee, it's Las Vegas cab drivers. Served in classic white diner mugs and refilled just when it cools to a drinkable temperature, Tiffany's American diner coffee is a veritable Vegas institution that goes back more than 30 years. Sure, it tastes like your truck-driving grandfather made it, but that's why it tastes so good.
[1700 Las Vegas Boulevard S., 382-1733]

Native cred: Professional photographer Ryan Reason remembers a time when the only things west of Rainbow Boulevard were dirt, lizards and optimism.

GLENN TRUITT
When some things go "corporate," they get more bland and lifeless than a Miley Cyrus album. Coffee is not one of them. Sure, I prefer music from Zia's, breakfast from the Egg & I and blackjack as far from the Strip as I can get it. But when it comes to coffee, give me Einstein's Bros. Bagels. I know it's a chain, but it's also blissfully devoid of the java snobbery of Starbucks and the marginal sanitation of the "local" shops. There's a great variety, kept fresh, with an oh-so-important note about which brew is the "strongest" without getting cute about it. If I didn't have someplace else to be, maybe I could appreciate hand-painted chairs or a barista talking about her poetry. But what I really want in coffee is a friendly face, a solid selection and an atmosphere that doesn't make me feel like I need a goatee.
[www.einsteinbros.com]

Newbie cred: Attorney Glenn Truitt recently relocated from L.A., so you probably understand his thing about goatees.


ARTS + LEISURE

Theater
InsurgoYou may be outraged and probably startled, but you'll almost never be bored when you attend a performance by Insurgo Theater Movement. Mixing classics with original drama, Insurgo favors a no-holds-barred style that aims to make Sophocles and Shakespeare sound hot off the presses.

Because it works in small spaces, Insurgo flings drama into your lap, and its stagings are marked by their extreme physicality. Actors literally climb the walls (and sometimes the rafters), engage in vigorous stage combat and in simulated - but no less steamy - sexual congress. Not for nothing did the Erotic Heritage Museum sign Insurgo to be its in-house theater troupe, giving rise to a randy reimagining of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

At its best, Insurgo achieves a total integration of insightful direction, forceful acting and arresting design, interspersed with surprising touches of poetry. The apocalyptic robot rampage of dystopian "R.U.R." exemplified Insurgo at its best, while grippingly detailed revivals of "Macbeth" and "The Crucible" also testified to the company's ability to fire the imagination. - D.M.
[www.insurgotheater.org]

Arts event
Forgive my heresy, but sometimes First Friday feels more like a mosh pit than an art crawl. And when it does, I leave my mall mohawk at home the next month and hit Preview Thursday, First Friday's more subdued sister. There, you'll dose up on stimulating artist talks, bang brains with fellow arts aficionados and enjoy an atmosphere that's less carnival, more curated. Best of all, fewer people means more wine for everybody. - A.K.

Breon JenayActor
She's played a man, a cat, a murderer, Iago's wife, a robot, a witch, a wood nymph, a rocker and a drug addict who carries an aborted fetus in her purse ... and that's just a partial resumé of what actress Breon Jenay managed to cram into 2010. A theatrical perpetual-motion machine, Jenay is most often seen onstage with Insurgo Theater Movement but has also graced the stages of Las Vegas Little Theatre ("Great Falls") and the Erotic Heritage Museum. The 23-year-old Sierra Vista High School graduate fairly defines "prodigy," equally adept at wearing the masks of comedy and tragedy, as comfortable in Shakespeare as in avant-garde fare. Whether in leading roles like Abigail Williams in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" or giving wordless walk-ons their full due, the Jenay is a true ensemble player who demonstrates that there are neither small parts nor small actors. - David McKee

Band

NATIVE VS. NEWBIE: Jim Gentleman and Max Plenke tussle over the city's best band

JIM GENTLEMAN
There's no better band in Las Vegas than Santa Fe. Currently performing Mondays at the Palms as Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns, they've been playing Vegas for the better part of 25 years - and heck, we're lucky to have held onto them for that long. Led by lead guitarist and vocalist Jerry Lopez, Sante Fe has probably played more Vegas casinos than any other band around, from blasts-from-the-past such as The Mint, Sands and Desert Inn to contemporary spots such as the Palms and Caesars Palace. There's a reason they get around: They mix in originals and popular songs from all over the musical map - pop, R&B, funk, rock & roll and jazz - and infuse them with roaring, ferocious energy while keeping them tight as a dime. Santa Fe more than earns the superlatives that fans - newly minted nightly - heap on them.
[www.santafeandthefatcityhorns.com]

Native cred: SK+G Advertising executive Jim Gentleman grew up in Las Vegas BUT HE CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER THIS SWEET SAX SOLO.

MAX PLENKE
Two huge Hawaiian guys playing ukuleles is already the key to happiness. But if you test your endorphin capacity by adding a five-piece rhythm section, you end up with HaleAmano, the local island reggae band that's recently been troubling the musical waters like Jaws does to skinny-dippers - and Las Vegas is the naked girl in the ocean. Frontmen Ryan Fleming and Israel Waahila have a back 'n' forth stage bromance that inspires a community feeling in the audience - which is perfect, since HaleAmano's music has strong political unity undertones when it's not delving into a sweet sea of r&b-inspired baby-making music (which you could still call unity undertones if you think about it).
Though local, HaleAmano tends to catch residencies at casino pools and Hawaiian cultural events. But if they keep up their current M.O. - energetic stage vibe, impressive musicianship, sweet ukulele shredding - there's little doubt they'll be gracing stages for crowds beyond AARP card-carriers at The Pond.
[www.haleamano.com]

Newbie cred: Max Plenke is the arts and entertainment staff writer for Las Vegas CityLife. He's been living in Las Vegas since June 2010.


Hike to thrill you (but not kill you)
Almost any hike at Red Rock will stupefy first-time visitors to Las Vegas' great outdoors. The La Madre-White Rock Loop Trail hike, however, lays the amazement on thick with the added bonuses of winding piƱon- and juniper-lined trails dwarfed by skyscrapers of red and white sandstone. At just under seven miles, it's long enough to work off jet lag and conference butt, yet short enough to handle with a hangover. Prepare yourself for "I never knew... !" - H.K.

Public art
No need to drive to Los Angeles to experience a crown jewel of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Michael Heizer's "Double Negative" (1969), though belonging to MoCA's collection, is located just an hour's drive northeast of Las Vegas, outside Overton. The earthwork is the first monumental piece of "land art" created as part of a movement that includes Robert Smithson's storied "Spiral Jetty" (1970) in the Great Salt Lake. These artists sought an alternative to the New York gallery system and salable, object-based artworks. Heizer hired locals to "carve" two facing 30-foot wide notches into the Mormon Mesa using dynamite, displacing 250,000 tons of rhyolite and sandstone. For Heizer, physical immersion within the manmade trenches, against the backdrop of the dramatic Virgin River valley, was key: "If you want to see the Pieta, you go to Italy. To see the Great Wall, you go to China. My work isn't conceptual art, it's sculpture. You just have to go see it." A quick Google search yields detailed directions. A four-wheel drive vehicle is necessary. And timing your trip to coincide with the early spring desert bloom - as I did in 2010 - is recommended. - Kirsten Swenson

Culture-booster
It can be easy to take First Friday for granted. Happens every month, so if you miss one, or two, or five in a row, there's another in a few weeks. And its structure doesn't really change - some street-fair action along Casino Center; gallery crawls at the Arts Factory, Holsum building, Commerce Street Studios and various art spaces - so you figure you know what you're missing. But eventually you go again, one of the thousands who attend now, up from a few hundred when it began in 2002. For the moment, you set aside the arguments that occasionally skitter around the event. (Does the street-fair component cheapen the fine-art aspect or give it an appealing grassroots vibe? How much of the art is any good?) You see some good pieces. You see people you haven't seen since your last First Friday, and you talk about art. How cool is that? When else does it happen? Almost never. You have First Friday organizer Whirlygig, Inc. to thank. - S.D.

DanceKNOW-IT-ALL: Expert Hal de Becker on the best new dance company

2010 saw the birth of a fresh, young ballet company, so rich in talent and promise that it qualifies as Las Vegas' best new dance troupe of the year. The Las Vegas Ballet Company is dedicated to presenting only classical ballets, whether originals or legendary masterworks such as "Swan Lake," "Nutcracker" and "Paquita," all of which are already in its repertoire. Kyudong Kwak and his wife Yoomi Lee, who were principal dancers with Nevada Ballet Theatre for 10 years, founded the company and serve as the company's artistic director and ballet mistress, respectively, as well as its lead dancers. They also head the Kwak Academy.

The Las Vegas Ballet Company's dedication to pure classics in a city rich in (excellent) contemporary ballets is refreshing. And when performing classics such as "Swan Lake" and "Nutcracker," the Las Vegas Ballet Company always tries to present the original choreography by Petipa, Ivanov and other masters. The technical virtuosity of Lee and Kwak, combined with the talents of the corps, make this possible. But more than just technique, I'm especially impressed by the troupe's youthful enthusiasm and unified dedication to its art. - Hal de Becker
[www.lasvegasballet.org]

He should know: Hal de Becker is a former dancer, dance instructor and longtime local dance critic for publications in Las Vegas, New York and London.


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