If the world is a stage, then Las Vegas seems to be the largest part of it.
Who would believe that the world’s premier capital is also among the world’s great theatre cities and on the to becoming one of the gastronomic centres of the U S A.
Gambling, entertainment, shopping, conventions and now serious gastronomic experiences are the major reasons for visitors to travel to Las Vegas. Here you can gamble at any time of the day, eat and drink to your heart’s content, take in first class entertainment priced reasonably, or simply visit one grandiose hotel after another. At night, you can either gamble at baccarat, roulette or other specialty tables or make a reservation to any of the first class dining rooms scattered throughout the “ strip “ of fine hotels. (The strip is the main boulevard of Las Vegas where most of the famous and glamorous hotels are located).
The entire city is a theatre set. It is all make-believe, built for one purpose, the audience’s enjoyment. If official figures are to be believed, 36 million visitors come to Las Vegas every year. After 9/11, the numbers dropped significantly, but started to climb again shortly after. On the main drag (the Strip) you can visit Venice (Venetian Hotel, complete with canals and gondolas), Paris (eponymous hotel with a miniature Tour d’Eiffel), New York (New York Hotel), Caesar’s Palace (scenes of Rome), Egypt (Luxor Hotel), and Monte Carlo. Medieval England is depicted in Excalibur Hotel, the 17th century Caribbean in the Treasure Island. MGM Grand and Bellagio are simply grand hotels with grandiose settings.
Walk the city’s streets (when it is not too hot) and wander the endless corridors of its hotels to encounter unforgettable people – all kinds of them, in all shapes and sizes- poor, rich, and extra rich. Everyone seems to be in some kind of uniform, employees, gamblers, security people, ordinary tourists and gawkers (unmistakable in their outfits and cameras dangling from both shoulders.
Las Vegas is no longer the Domaine of Elvis impersonators; famous acts come here, as do Cirque du Soleil, and Folie Berger. Famous singers including many rock and roll starts perform here. Second rate, “worn” acts are booked in Reno further north.
In the past mostly Americans travelled to Las Vegas to gamble, and/or convention delegates, but today you can find Russians, Chinese, English, South Africans, Brazilians, French, Germans, Italians, Canadians, and peoples of other nationalities.
With 15,000 hotel rooms and a huge convention centre, Las Vegas can host any convention and incentive group. In fact, city fathers made a conscious decision almost a decade ago to encourage this type of business in an attempt to boost occupancy and fill hotels during “ shoulder “ seasons.
The “ whales “ (big time gamblers) with deep pockets get almost everything for free, including travel expenses, providing they gamble a set amount. Management keeps track of such people. Whales also have high dining standards.
For a long time “ whales, “ demanded fine restaurant fare and now there is a plethora of
from which to choose. All are located in hotels, owned or leased by famous American chefs, or those “ alien “, but practicing in the country for many years.
All are expensive, but offer outstanding food, thoughtfully presented, well served along with an excellent choice of wines.
These restaurants were designed with opulence in mind. The décor is lavish, lighting subdued, tables and chairs comfortable, with thoughtful details that go beyond good service. (Valet service provided upon request).
Once the server knows your name, you will be addressed by name throughout the meal.
To dine in such restaurants, reservations are advisable. Make sure to allocate sufficient time to appreciate both the environment and food.
Here are some of the best restaurants in Las Vegas. All accept major credit cards and serve dinner exclusively unless otherwise indicated.
PICASSO (Bellagio Hotel, 3600 Las Vegas Boulevard South. Tel. No.: Reservations
702 693 7223)
If you can only eat just one meal in Las Vegas, this restaurant would have to be the place. Julian Serrano from San Francisco is behind this operation that serves elegant, refined, and harmonious food. Scallops, truffle-crusted loin of lamb, squab with wild rice risotto, are just a few of the specialties.
The wine list is extensive, and sommeliers knowledgeable enough to guide you to the right wine.
Your satisfaction is uppermost on the mind of management. If you express any disappointment, chances are you will either be complemented the main course, or the entire meal.
AUREOLE (Mandalay Bay Hotel 3950 Las Vegas Boulevard South Tel. No.; 702 632 7401)
The entire restaurant was planned around wine. There are 2000 selections backed by an inventory of 35,000 bottles. The food is deeply flavoured; crab and duck specialties abound. However, American essentials like beef are also on the menu.
Pastries are always fresh, well prepared, and presented by a talented pastry chef.
Although the restaurant has 400 seats, the design allows for privacy as well as intimacy. Service is flawless.
LE CIRQUE (Bellagio Hotel Tel. No.: 702 693 8100)
Sirrio Maccione, the long-time owner of Le Cirque in New York, decided to open a small but outstanding restaurant to serve rich and delightful dishes. Foie gras preparations are superb and complex. Dishes are harmonious and bold but never heavy.
The wine list is short, but offers sufficient choice to satisfy the demands of even the most sophisticated diners.
Servers are professionals and serve with dignity.
AQUA (Bellagio Hotel Tel. No.: 702 693 8199)
The exclusively seafood menu offers simple well cooked and presented dishes.
Here you can order grilled Maine lobster with heirloom tomatoes drizzled with fine balsamic vinegar, or seared ahi tuna with foie gras. Caviar is served with pomp and circumstance from a tableside trolley. This is a busy, fine seafood restaurant worth experiencing.
The service is friendly, and wine list offbeat, but well selected.
ANDRE’S FRENCH RESTAURANT (401 S Sixth Street Tel. No.; 702 385 5016)
Once inside, you feel as though you are in France. The restaurant, located in a 1930’s building was opened in 1980’s, catering to locals and tourists in the know.
The food is Provencale French, but impeccably executed. Wines (1200 selections) are from all famous wine regions.
EMERIL’S NEW ORLEANS FISH HOUSE (MGM Grand Hotel 3799 Las Vegas Boulevard S Tel. No.: 702 891 7374)
LUNCH AND DINNER DAILY
This was Emeril’s first foray outside of New Orleans in 1994. The design mimics a French Quarter (New Orleans) town house with an “outdoor“ patio and décor. Gumbo, Barbecued shrimp, andouille-sausage and crusted red fish are menu staples. All are well prepared and presented. The wine list is extensive and expensive, but the bargains exist for well versed wine aficionados.
Servers are young, enthusiastic, perceptive and casual in a calculated way.
This restaurant is always busy. Reservations are necessary.
DELMONICO STEAK HOUSE (The Venetian Hotel, 3355 Las Vegas Boulevard S Tel.No.: 702 414 3737)
LUNCH AND DINNER DAILY
Although owned by the famous TV chef Emeril Lagasse, his name does not appear anywhere. It is a classic steak house with a few Creole highlights. The steaks are tender, juicy, well flavoured, and always cooked to specification.
The wine list is short but well selected. Service is friendly and casual.
PRIME (BELLAGIO HOTEL Tel. No.: 702 693 7223)
As the name suggests, the restaurant features mainly beef specialties.
The plush dining room overlooks the “ dancing “ waters of the fountains outside the hotel. The wine list is thoughtfully selected and offers many red wines to complement beef.
Service is knowledgeable and friendly.
OSTERIA DEL CIRCO (BELLAGIO HOTEL Tel. No.: 702 693 8150)
LUNCH AND DINNER DAILY
Circo in Las Vegas looks somewhat like the original restaurant in New York, but with more entertaining elements. The food is vibrant, boldly flavoured, and imaginatively presented. Even pizzas and pastas are offered. All are well prepared and presented.
A middle-of-the-road wine list seems to be designed for the average diner unenthusiastic about wine.
The service is friendly but shows hints of “attitude “.
PINOT BRASSERIE (The Venetian Hotel Tel. No.: 702 735 8888)
LUNCH AND DINNER DAILY
Operated by chef Joachim Splichal, the restaurant offers carefully prepared brasserie food. (Onion soup, shellfish platter, steaks, garlic-infused French fries)
The restaurant looks French and offers simple French fare served with aplomb. The wine list contains a good selection of California and French wines.
SPAGO (CAESAR’S PALACE 3500 Las Vegas Boulevard S Tel. No.: 702 369 6300 )
LUNCH AND DINENR DAILY
The famous chef Wolfgang Puck operates this restaurant , and was the first to open in a famous hotel (1992).
The menu features pizzas, salads, delicate fish and hearty steaks; all items American diners associate with fine food. The service can be hectic and occasionally disappointing as the restaurant is always busy, serving between 1000-1500 guests daily.
The wine list is adequate and reasonably priced considering other restaurants on the strip.
LUPO (MANDALAY BAY HOTEL Tel. No.: 702 740 5522)
LUNCH AND DINNER DAILY
Although Mr Puck is Austrian, this is an Italian restaurant featuring mostly pizzas, pastas, a few Mediterranean fish dishes, and some meat specialties.
The décor reminds one of Tuscany, with wooden beams in the ceiling, and earthenware pots.
The wine list is mainstream American.
Service is friendly and skilful with just the right amount of professionalism.
STAR CANYON (THE VENETIAN HOTEL Tel No.: 702 414 3772)
LUNCH AND DINNER DAILY
The menu features tamale tarts with garlic flan, rib eye steak with gravy and onion rings, chocolate and peanut butter tarts. All are heavy and filling. Halibut steak and other subtle dishes are also available for those looking for lighter fare. The wine list is short and reasonably priced. Good selection of beer beckons. Service is friendly and fast.
COYOTE CAFÉ (MGM GRAND HOTEL Tel No.: 702 891 7349)
BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND DINNER DAILY)
Opened in 1994, this restaurant could make do with a little face-lift, but the food is imaginative. Tuna steak is vibrant, lamb chops well prepared and served with rosemary-pear chutney. Other dishes appeal to the mainstream diner, but can be enticing. The wine list is short, but on the other hand a good selection of Tequilas are offered.
The service is fast and friendly.
SMITH AND WOLLENSKY (3767 Las Vegas Boulevard S Tel No.: 702 862 4100)
(WOLLENSKY’S GRILL OPEN FOR LUNCH AND DINNER UNTIL 3 AM)
This is a replica of the original New York restaurant offering prime, dry-aged beef. The steaks are tender, succulent and flavourful. The kitchen delivers steaks as specified.
The wine list is expensive, extensive, and mostly geared to beef dishes.
The service is professional.
Smith and Wollensky offers a cigar lounge, and a butcher shop for those who absolutely want to take home a few steaks.
CHINA GRILL (Mandalay Bay Hotel Tel. No.: 702 632 7404)
This is an Americanised Chinese restaurant with a jumble of artefacts, cultural references and a décor that can only be described as eclectic.
Grilled shrimp is served with red curry coconut sauce, starting sweet then finishing hot in the mouth. Szechwan beef is juicy, spicy and savoury. Other items are standard fare.
The wine list is short . Service tends to be fast and to the point.
ONDA (Mirage Hotel 3400 Las Vegas Boulevard S Tel No.: 702 791 7223)
Opened in 1989, it is considered to be old by Las Vegas standards, but offers interesting food like kale soup with garlic, veal Marsala, and grilled grappa-marinated salmon.
A comfortable restaurant by all accounts catering to mainstream guests, The wine list is short, standard, and weak on Tuscan selections. The restaurant has Tuscan theme.
OLIVE’S (Bellagio Hotel Tel. No.: 702 693 8181)
LUNCH AND DINNER DAILY
This attractive dining room with big windows overlooking Bellagio’s lake and fountains deserves a visit.
The service is friendly and prices are reasonable. The extensive wine list covers Italy, France and California. Not much attention is paid to preparation and presentation, but portions are large. Effectively, Olive’s aims to cater to seafood-loving mainstream segment of the market.
HUGO’S CELLAR (Four Queens 202 East Fremont Street)
This is a value-restaurant in downtown Las Vegas.
Most beef specialties are reasonably priced, and “ old fashioned “ service delivers food and beverage quickly and effectively. All main courses come with a salad and dessert.
This is a place to go with friends to relax and have a good time more than to experience gastronomic dishes.
PALACE COURT (Caesar’s Palace Tel No. 702 731 7731)
This is the oldest (by Las Vegas standards) gourmet dining room. Some regulars have been known to frequent it for over 25 years. The wine list is extensive and expensive. For special guests, special wines off the regular list await.
The food is decidedly old-fashioned to cater to an older clientele. Sauteed scallops on a nage of cilantro are fine, and filet of beef Rossini reminds one of the previous century.
It tastes good, but contains too much fat.
This is a restaurant for nostalgic, rich people looking for a pleasant break from gambling.
DRAI’S (Barbary Coast Hotel 3595 Las Vegas Boulevard S Tel. No.: 702 737 0555)
This is strictly a casino dining room located between Bellagio Hotel and Caesar’s Palace offering $ 5.- black jack tables and still $ 10.95 prime rib dinner, yet you can order Mediterranean inspired foods. Portions are ample and service is friendly. The wine list is standard, but reasonably priced.