Section: Stephanie Visits Sin City
I attended a dessert and pastry conference in Las Vegas this
past fall. I'd never been there before, so I took a few extra
days to wander around. My impressions and opinions follow...
In the past decade or so, Las Vegas has undergone a dining revolution.
It used to be the norm that one could eat very cheaply there,
but much of the food was less than wonderful. Now, with many
celebrity chefs opening branches of their big-name restaurants
there, prices at some eating establishments are high, but sometimes
it is possible to get some very good food. Two menu "staples"
are creme brulee and a breadbasket containing foccaccia and
a flatbread/crispbread (usually with cheese and/or herbs); everyone
seems to be serving both. Also, almost all of the resorts either
already have or are constructing noodle houses, great places
to get a snack or dim sum. Reservations are essential at many
of the more famous restaurants, especially on weekends. Where
reservations aren't accepted, it might be helpful to go at off-peak
hours if standing in line isn't your thing. The restaurants
I discuss here are in no particular order.
--Fiore (in the Rio Suites). This is a pretty and classy
place with subdued lighting. I was much pleased by the thoughtfulness
of the service here, especially as the wait staff managed to
be attentive but not overly-solicitous. In addition, the wait
staff knows about the food they serve, and, if they don't know
the answer to a question you have about it, they'll find out.
The food was of first-rate quality, and in general it was very
well-prepared. Recommended dishes: Parmesan bread (served at
the beginning of the meal); roasted foie gras with raspberry
coulis; hearts of romaine lettuce with bleu cheese vinaigrette;
tower of mixed berries with sorbet and berry sauce. The "tower"
is a beautiful and ingenious dessert, with a great combination
of tastes and textures. The only down side to my meal here was
the smell of smoke that drifted in from the smoking section
of this restaurant. Definitely worth a try though, particularly
if you're looking for a romantic dining spot.
--Cafe Spago (in Caesar's Palace). Directly adjacent
to Spago, the restaurant, but with much less expensive prices.
I was not impressed by most of the food I tried here or by the
service, which got slower during the meal. Presentation is important
here, and it's true that most of the food looked quite appetizing.
The cafe was crowded and noisy at 1:30 pm on a Sunday, and it
remained so throughout the meal. Recommended dish: fresh papardelle
with chicken sausage (be aware, though, that the sausage is
on the spicy side).
--The House of Blues Gospel Brunch (in Mandalay Bay).
This must be the ultimate in irony, even in Las Vegas. A gospel
brunch in a casino. And did I mention that they serve alcohol?
The biggest attraction here is the music; I was told that nationally-famous
groups sometimes perform here. I saw a local group called "Visions
of Praise", and they were simply outstanding. A decent buffet,
with some standard items (scrambled eggs with dill and smoked
salmon, fresh fruit, and muffins, for example) and some Southern
dishes (jambalaya, fried chicken, turnip greens, and more).
You MUST reserve in advance for this brunch, and there is a
no-cancellation policy. There are two seatings, 10 am and 1
pm, and apparently both usually sell out. Seating is on a first-come,
first-served basis, and, ridiculously, you'll have to bring
a picture ID to claim your ticket(s). The group I saw performed
for only about 40 minutes; considering that this brunch will
set you back about $38 per person as of this writing, I didn't
think that was long enough. This is more of a concert with food
than a dining destination.
--Napa (in the Rio Suites). After the glitz of The Strip
and the public areas of the Rio Suites, the atmosphere in Napa
is most refreshing. It's quiet and classy; from where I sat,
there was a partial view of both the kitchen and the city of
Las Vegas. Courteous and attentive service seems to be a standard
here, and the kitchen turns out some innovative food. Recommended
dishes: roasted foie gras with rhubarb puree and rhubarb coulis,
pea tendril broth with spiny lobster, the trio of ice creams
with hot chocolate and butterscotch caramel sauces. I must say
a word or two about the latter. Please have dessert; the pastry
chef, Jemil, is a young man of considerable talent, evidenced
in his gianduja (milk chocolate-hazelnut) and roast corn ice
creams (yes, roast corn ice cream, and it's fabulous), his excellent
butterscotch caramel sauce, and the small plate of petit fours
that ends every meal here. If you choose any of the day's specials,
make sure you inquire about their price, as it might be considerably
higher than other offerings in that category. This is a place
to go for refinement, graciousness, and some inspired cuisine.
--Olives (in Bellagio). The wait staff here appears to
be in great athletic condition when this place gets busy; they
really hustle. That means prompt service, but you might feel
a bit rushed at peak times. I thought that the prices in this
restaurant were a bit steep, and, although I was most pleased
with my appetizer, my entree, a flatbread with portobella mushrooms,
did not work. The bread itself, the size of an individual pizza,
was fine. The mushrooms on it were both pureed and in slices,
a nice visual contrast. But salt had been sprinkled much too
heavily along the edge of the mushroom-cheese-onion center,
and the salt unpleasantly dominated the taste of everything
else. Recommended dish: carpaccio (that was my appetizer, and
the portion is enormous).
--Royal Star (in The Venetian). As of this writing, dim
sum is served here from 11 am to 5 pm daily, but a regular menu
is always available. The restaurant is sparely but pleasingly
decorated in black, jade green, and white. Service is swift
and efficient, but never rude. Located along the Restaurant
Row of this upscale resort, Royal Star is a nice, quiet place.
Recommended dishes: vegetable spring rolls, barbecued pork buns.
--Tre Visi (in the MGM Grand). This restaurant can get
busy and rather noisy on a Saturday night, but service was pretty
good throughout the meal. Much of the food, however, was mediocre
at best. The garden salad was uninspired; the pappa al pomodoro
(a tomato soup thickened with bread) had a good consistency
but was overbearingly acidic; and the chocolate creme brulee
was overcooked. Recommended dish: spinach ravioli. With so many
other dining choices in town, Tre Visi needs work in the kitchen.
--Noodles (in Bellagio). Guess what they serve here?
Yes, lots of noodle dishes, but they also serve dim sum from
11 am to 3 pm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Although mere
steps from the slot machines, Noodles provides a quiet haven
for some good food. It's a pretty little place, too, with a
lot of wood and light. A regular menu is available all the time,
as well; the man at the table next to mine was enjoying congee
(a traditional-for-breakfast porridge in some Asian countries)
while I had my dim sum. Brisk but friendly service means your
plate won't be empty for long, if at all. Recommended dishes:
vegetable dumplings, shrimp and pork dumplings.
--Wolfgang Puck's Cafe (in the MGM Grand). Another cafe
right in the middle of banks of slot machines, this is a cheerfully
eccentric place. I half-expected a lot of attitude to go with
the name, but there was none; I saw a waitress discussing an
upcoming college football game with an older couple a few tables
away, and they were talking like old friends. Pizzas, pastas,
salads, and rotisserie specials dominate the menu, with some
vegetarian offerings. Recommended dish: Puck's original shrimp
BLT club sandwich, a large and delicious combination of good
bread, shrimp, bacon, lettuce, tomato, red onions, and more.
Generous portions and prices that are reasonable by Vegas standards.
in Las Vegas:
There is some good chocolate to be found here, but much of it
is in restaurant desserts. Outside of that, for European-style
chocolates, your only option seems to be Gaston Lenotre, a branch
of the famous Parisian bakery, located in Paris in Las Vegas.
I enjoyed Lenotre's truffles, but I wasn't much impressed by
the assorted chocolates; of the three pastries I tried (an "Opera",
a "Concerto", and a "Charlotte Cecile"), only the "Concerto"
was very good. For American-style chocolates, visit any Ethel
M Chocolates; there are at least two right on The Strip. This
company uses no preservatives in their candies, and the ingredients
are of decent quality. A very long cab ride from The Strip,
you'll find Danielle's Chocolates and Ice Cream, at (702) 259-7616.
It's a friendly little place, with a good variety of decent
chocolates from which to choose (I haven't tried the ice cream).