NOW THAT LAS VEGAS HAS BECOME ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREAT EATING CITIES, MORE CHOICES THAN EVER ABOUND. Vegas has a higher number of AAA five-diamond restaurants than anywhere else in the country except Chicago, and probably has more celebrity-chef-fronted outlets than anywhere else in the world.
Unlike Chicago, which has a formidable dining history, Sin City has been serious about food for only a decade or so—its rise as a foodie destination is an amazing and often unheralded accomplishment. But a great dining experience doesn't always mean going to the fanciest place in town. Terrific food is all about the combination of flavors, textures and styles that creates a memorable moment for the mouth. These days, food is entertainment. Here are some Vegas restaurants, from across the price spectrum, that are delivering on the experience.
Those who wish to splurge on a meal they will never forget must try Alex. The epitome of French cuisine, this restaurant at Wynn Las Vegas allows diners to enjoy food on several levels—taste is one, of course, but artistry and presentation are integral too.
Chef Alex Stratta works with only the finest and freshest ingredients available. Items are shipped overnight from all corners of the globe to ensure guests literally taste the best flavors the world has to offer the day they're dining. The menu at Alex changes seasonally to reflect the availability of ingredients.
The only way to properly appreciate a restaurant such as Alex is via the tasting menu. Dishes change regularly, but chances are you'll enjoy many French favorites such as Osetra caviar, foie gras, sweetbreads, rabbit and Japanese Wagyu beef.
Each dish is lovingly handcrafted. The foie gras, for example, is marinated and soaked overnight in milk before being cured for a full day in a pink salt. It's then rolled, poached in water, rolled again and hung on a rack for another day before being sealed in a container of duck fat. Now that's dedication. There's also sheer artistry in the presentation: Every dish is like a museum piece that must be appreciated before being digested. The meal is even better when paired with wines selected by the talented sommelier.
Alex is only one of 14 restaurants nationwide to achieve a Mobil five-star rating. A dinner here can cost between $150 and $350 per person on average, depending on personal preference and whether a meal is paired with wines. For more information and reservations, call 702-770-3300 or visit www.wynnlasvegas.com. The restaurant is closed on Wednesdays.
Michael Mina Bellagio
A rising star in the food world, Michael Mina is one of those rare celeb chefs who spend more time focusing on food than on television appearances. In the far corner of the conservatory of Bellagio, Mina's eponymous restaurant specializes in contemporary seafood infused with French-influenced cooking techniques using California and Mediterranean ingredients. Mina cut his teeth as executive chef at San Francisco's renowned Aqua (www.aqua-sf.com) before coming to Las Vegas.
He is equally adept at creating wholly original dishes, such as Michael Mina Signature Caviar Parfait, as he is at updating the classics, such as Maine Lobster Pot Pie. The latter features a light, flaky crust as well as nontraditional ingredients like black truffles. Recommend the Tartare of Ahi Tuna, which is prepared with sesame oil, toasted pine nuts, garlic and chiffonade of mint. It's an unbelievable fusion of flavors that combine for a sensation which has a much deeper profile than most other dishes of its kind.
Executive chef Anthony Amoroso brilliantly brings Mina's menu to life and is in his own right an emerging talent. The atmosphere here is low-key and relaxed, with a design resembling an upscale bistro more than a world-class restaurant. Although a traditional menu is available, there are also several tasting menus geared toward vegetarians, seasonal items highlights from Mina's cookbook. Prices vary widely, depending on what's being ordered, but on average dining here could cost about $125 per person. Reservations are recommended. Call 702-693-7223 for more information or visit www.bellagio.com.
Sake is quickly emerging as a leading spirit in the United States. In fact, more sake is sold here than in Japan. And there is no better place in Las Vegas to enjoy the breadth of this ancient beverage than Shibuya at the MGM Grand. There are 110 sakes on this menu that run the gamut in taste, price and style.
The menu itself focuses on traditional Japanese cuisine, but dishes feature a modern twist that fuses American and Japanese techniques (for example, the Lobster Miso Soup). Menu highlights include Shibaki Tuna Tartar with Mountain Caviar and Spicy Tobiko, Miso Wild Salmon in a sauce of Lotus Root and Ginger and Kobe Beef Tataki prepared with Shichimi Onions and Lemon Soy.
Interestingly, chef Stephane Chevet is of French decent and honed his skills at Michelin-star restaurants throughout Europe before becoming executive chef at Shibuya in 2004. Suggest the Chef's Tasting Menu with sake pairings to get a full understanding of the interrelated complexity of food flavors that are brought out with the right sake. Prices vary, ranging from small plates as inexpensive as $8 to a $50 entree. For more information, call 702-891-3001 or visit www.mgmgrand.com.
Burger Bar, located at Mandalay Place between Mandalay Bay and Luxor, is home to a myriad types of burgers and virtually limitless topping, bread and side combinations. The joint serves only the finest organic and free-range beef, lamb, turkey and salmon burgers, as well as a $60 Kobe beef burger with fresh sautéed foie gras and black truffles called the Rossini. It also features buffalo and chicken.
The trick here is matching the right toppings to your burger. And they have seemingly everything broken down into different categories such as Dairy, Grill, Farm, Garden, Ocean, Pantry, Earth and more. You can even choose your own bun style.
Try the Surf & Turf Burger, which comes with a grilled half lobster and asparagus, or the American Classic with American cheese, bacon, tomato and onion. Side dishes include sweet potato fries, onion rings, skinny and fat fries and buttermilk zucchini fries, which are extremely crispy on the outside and soft and delicate on the inside.
Burger Bar is a casual place of wood-paneled booths with plasma TVs as well as two long bars for seating. It has an extensive micro-brew beer menu too. Burger prices start around $10, and toppings cost from about $1 a piece. For more information, call 702-632-7200 or find Burger Bar online at www.mandalaybay.com.