Five Haute Dining Spots in Vegas (Plus One Killer Brunch)
If what you know about eating in Vegas is a late-night buffet, then you need to return to the city that has become the dining mecca of the States. Apart from New York and maybe San Francisco, there's no other city in the US that offers such a breadth of culinary talent in such spectacular settings.
The opening of the $8.5 billion CityCenter upped the ante with another handful of big name chefs and the Strip is now home to at least 50 world-class restaurants, many of them helmed by chefs originally from outside the States.
Alongside celebrity chefs from Montreal, D.C., LA, and New York, there are master sommeliers in charge of wine cellars so extensive that no oenophile will ever go thirsty in this desert.
Recent restaurant openings at the Wynn and the arrival of Gordon Ramsay have kept the culinary cognoscenti chattering. James Beard Award-winning Chef Bradley Ogden (whose eponymous restaurant will shutter in summer 2012 to make way for a gastropub from...Gordon Ramsay) has been quoted as contending that "the top 100 restaurants in the country [are] within a two-mile radius." Think about it: Bar Masa, Guy Savoy, Joel Robuchon, Le Cirque, Twist, Estiatorio Milos, Jaleo, Scarpetta, Picasso, and on and on and on.
To help you with your gustatory peregrinations, here's a list of five haute dining spots in Vegas, plus one spot for a killer, hangover brunch (listed in no particular order).
Mizumi @ The Wynn
Mizumi @ The Wynn: Everything about the Wynn is stunning; after all, you’re dealing with a gay man’s aesthetic: Roger Thomas has worked with Steve Wynn for more than thirty years - and his extraordinary taste is in evidence at nearly every turn.
Mizumi, the brand-new Japanese restaurant in the Wynn is no exception. A vision of red, black, and gold, the restaurant is also an example of understated and restrained design that focuses on space and perspective. The restaurant overlooks the Wynn’s private gardens with waterfalls and koi ponds; a pagoda table at the water’s edge is available for al fresco dining.
In such a refined setting, exceptional cuisine is almost mandatory. Chef Devin Hashimoto intuitively - and creatively - grasps the full expanse of Japanese cuisine, offering not only sushi and sashimi, but also robatayaki and teppanyaki. Signature sushi specialties include a Mizumi roll of Maine lobster, tamago, soy paper, with yuzu mustard aioli - and a dragon roll of barbequed eel and snow crab.
For those interested in personal health and the health of the planet, all Wynn Resorts in Vegas offer vegan cuisine. Recently, Steve Wynn and his wife became vegan and now Wynn and Encore work with vegan wunderkind Chef Tal Ronnen to create animal-free meals that are as aesthetically pleasing as they are healthy.
Opened in May 2012, Mizumi is the latest star in Vegas’s constellation of fine dining.
Jaleo by José Andrés @ The Cosmopolitan
The best tapas in the world? That’s a claim that gets bandied about by the culinary cognoscenti of Vegas - and after a recent meal at Jaleo that was marked by a surfeit of playful creativity and ingenious flavor combinations, we’ll happily second that honorific.
Chef José Andrés opened the first Jaleo in D.C. in 1993 - and the subsequent two metropolitan Washington iterations made Jaleo a beloved local institution. Andrés’ fourth Jaleo outpost opened at the Cosmopolitan in 2011 and was quickly awarded "Best New Restaurant" in Vegas.
It’s a natural fit, given that Jaleo means "revelry" in Spanish. This, after all, is a restaurant where the open kitchen with its olivewood fire pit sends flames leaping into the air as patrons happily drape themselves around wooden tables and brightly-colored banquettes to eat Andrés’ inspired food.
Start with the sangria - or a signature G&T. What sounds simple, maybe even pedestrian, becomes elevated in the hands and mind of Chef Andrés.
The G&T, for example, is made with Hendricks gin and a local tonic, but it’s the story behind the drink - and the flowers and berries floating in the glass - that will keep you remembering this cocktail.
According to a server, one with a romantic streak, Chef Andrés spent a summer day with his daughters in a meadow - and whenever he wasn’t looking, his two young daughters would drop wildflowers into his drink, thinking he was unaware. Jaleo’s G&T is Andrés’ way of remembering that perfect day in Spain.
Molecular gastronomy makes an appearance in Jaleo’s liquid olives, dedicated to "Ferran Adria" of El Bulli: spherical blobs like tiny black egg yolks - and loaded with concentrated flavor. You want to keep spooning them into your mouth like caviar. Tiny baby potatoes, like doll fingers, are served with two sauces from the Canary Islands. You could easily snack on an entire bag of these while watching an Almodovar trilogy.
As the plates keep arriving, each one complementing the one before and the one after, the question keeps arising, "What’s your favorite? Which one do you like best?" Traditional chicken fritters served in a tennis shoe. Or a shooter of chilled gazpacho. Endive leaves arrive laden with goat cheese, oranges, and almonds.
And the "pan con tomate" is the epitome of summer simplicity: toasted slices of rustic bread slathered with garlic and fresh tomatoes. A warm Brussels sprout salad is flecked with apricots, apples and bits of Serrano ham - while a fennel salad is a tasty tangle of Manchego cheese, walnuts, and apples, dressed in sherry.
And then there’s the paella: smoky and delicious, reminding you of your first trip to Spain and the culinary revelations that ensued. You were young, a guest at someone’s home, and there was family and sangria, lots of sangria, and it was summer and everyone was laughing. The best summer of your life.
That’s what a meal at Jaleo does for you: it reminds you of what you love best about life. No wonder it’s so beloved.
LINK: Jaleo by José Andrés @ The Cosmopolitan
Gordon Ramsay Steak @ Paris Las Vegas
To get to London from Paris, you have to pass through the Chunnel - even in Vegas. You leave behind the streets of Montmartre and the (painted) Parisian sky and enter a room festooned with a massive Union Jack.
The two-level space with private dining rooms overlooking the main floor of the Paris casino opened in May of 2012 - and already the restaurant is buzzing with a cacophony of global accents as omnivores from around the world chomp into Ramsay’s reinterpretation of American steakhouse fare.
Beef Wellington is a crowd-pleaser as is the toxically delicious toffee pudding. Cocktails (and wines) are ordered from an iPad and are as much fun to drink as they are to photograph.
The service at Gordon Ramsay Steak is impeccable and polished, not unlike a British gentleman - and the entire evening evokes the glories and good times of Merry Old England.
LINK: Gordon Ramsay Steak
miX in Las Vegas @ THEHotel at Mandalay Bay
You might come here for the view, which is arguably the best perspective of the Strip in all of Vegas, but you’ll be happy you’re eating Alain Ducasse’s classic French/American cuisine at this 64th-floor restaurant in the sky.
Named "Best Restaurant" (2006) by Travel + Leisure magazine, miX is a mid-century Modern vision of white and silver with a sweeping staircase that recalls Morris Lapidus’s "Staircase to Nowhere" at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. Murano glass bubbles float through the air - and even the bathrooms provide panoramic views.
Dining in this stunning room is the equivalent to floating in a cloud - and it’s no wonder that one recent evening a newly-married couple, the bride still in her wedding gown, chose miX to celebrate their nuptials.
The menu is sprinkled with Ducasse’s signature dishes including lobster and shellfish artisanal pasta and baba a l’Armagnac, both from Louis XV in Monte Carlo, now celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood @ THEHotel at Mandalay Bay:
When you feel like slurping oysters in the middle of the afternoon, this is where you want to be. Chef Rick Moonen has been a long-time advocate for ocean conservation, working to insure that his restaurants support sustainable fishing. All fish are caught or farmed without harm to the environment.
An oyster sampler of six oysters - three from the Pacific, three from the Atlantic - arrives with descriptions as evocative as wine. Best of all, each oyster is as delicious as the descriptive prose - so much so that a second sampler is mandatory.
Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood utilizes produce from local purveyors, including the Andracki farm, which supplies Vegas restaurants with its basil, squash flowers, turnips, and radishes. A salad of organic greens from the Andracki family is sprinkled with yellow and orange marigold flowers - and tastes as fresh as if you were eating it in your mother’s garden.
Chef Moonen graduated first in his class at CIA in Hyde Park and his background has included New York stints at La Cote Basque, Le Cirque, Chelsea Central, and Oceana. Vegas has him now and seafood has never tasted better in the desert.
LINK: Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood
Serendipity 3 @ Caesars Palace
Let’s imagine that you had a rough night of it in Vegas. Hard to imagine, but still. Maybe a few too many - of everything. When you wake, the thunder down under is in your head - and what you need is breakfast at Serendipity 3.
What you need is Fried Eggs Benedict: a pair of corn meal crusted fried poached eggs, with classic Hollandaise and Canadian bacon atop sausage gravy and housemade biscuits. Feeling better, already?
Located next to the Caesars Palace fountains, right across the street from the Flamingo, this outpost of New York City’s legendary comfort food favorite fits perfectly into the excesses of Vegas.
LINK: Serendipity 3 @ Caesars Palace