travel: lost wages…
The temperature had already reached 90 degrees when I headed out for my run at 6:30 a.m. In a three-mile stretch, I passed the Doge’s palace, the Bridge of Sighs, the Rialto Bridge, the Trevi Fountain, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, the Statue of Liberty, and the Sphinx. Oh, and King Arthur’s castle.
Care to guess where I was?
My friend Cowboy, who’s working in Las Vegas, had been wanting, for some months, for me to fly out there to eat with him. So I did.
I hadn’t been to Sin City in over a decade. The last time I was there, I wasn’t even driver licensed, much less allowed on the casino floor. As I recall, the Miracle Mile was only a mile, the pathetic-looking Fashion Mall was considered off the strip, and the great pyramid, Luxor, was still under construction.
My, how this city has grown.
The Miracle Mile has now tripled in length, the Fashion Mall (now very much on the strip) has blossomed into a behemoth center of commerce, and – next to the newer, shinier pleasure palaces since built – the Luxor now looks as ancient as the pyramids of Egypt.
And the celebrity chefs, they have come a-flocking. Thomas Keller, Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck, Joachim Splichal, David Burke, Charlie Trotter, Piero Selvaggio and Emeril Lagasse all gather in Venice, making the Venetian-Palazzo the home to the most number of James Beard Award-winning chefs under one roof.
Everyone from Bobby Flay (MESA Grill in Caesar’s Palace) to Rick Moonen (rm Seafood in Mandalay Bay) have shown up. Daniel Boulud opened Daniel Boulud Brasserie at The Wynn. Charlie Palmer duplicated his Charlie Palmer Steak and Aureole at the Mandalay Bay, right next to Hubert Keller’s Las Vegas outpost of San Francisco restaurant Fleur de Lys. Michael Mina double dips – having operations in both MGM Grand and the Bellagio.
Even important names from abroad have been lured by the desert’s siren call. Guy Savoy opened up his eponymous restaurant in Caesar’s Palace. Ducasse signed his name on miX, a trendy restaurant on the 64th floor of theHOTEL at Mandalay Bay. Joël Robuchon brings it big to the MGM Grand with two restaurants: a branch of his McRobuchon l’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, as well as Joël Robuchon at The Mansion, the chef’s über-luxe re-entry into the haute, haute, haute. And reports that Pierre Gagnaire will have a patisserie in the yet-to-be-finished Mandarin Oriental are becoming increasingly more credible.
All of this attention has attracted the food-obsessed. And Michelin’s Guide Rouge deemed the city worthy of publication. In 2009, it awarded seventeen restaurants stars.
But are any of these restaurants any good? Or, are they just cash cows for entrepreneurial cooks?
In four days and four nights, I visited eight restaurants. Click on the names of the restaurants for the links to each of my reviews. In alphabetic order:
Aburiya Raku (off Strip)
Bar Charlie (Palazzo)
Bouchon (The Venetian)
Joël Robuchon at The Mansion (The Mansion at MGM Grand)
MESA Grill (Caesar’s Palace)
miX (theHOTEL at Mandalay Bay)
With my visit to Joël Robuchon at The Mansion, I completed my bed post-notching tour of all of the Michelin three-stars in the U.S (the others are The French Laundry, masa, per se, le Bernardin, and Jean Georges).
Largely, I was impressed with the food in Las Vegas. Quality was not an issue. Neither was execution. What landed on the plate tended to be exceptional. Everything from a simple compressed peach and strawberry fruit salad to an 11-month dry-aged Porterhouse (that’s right, 11-month dry-aged) to a seafood plate involving “fish guts” was accomplished with care.
Service, however, was surprisingly sloppy. Perhaps the servers in Las Vegas are used to mindless diners out for mindless splurges and don’t care to give, or don’t know how to give, excellent service. Or, perhaps, the morale was low.
Despite the positive projections on market growth, Las Vegas didn’t seem as “charged” as it could be. In quite a few conversations with people in the service industry out there, it was clear that the local economy was sagging. Retail stores were empty. And restaurants – most of the higher-end ones, anyway – were half-filled at best. A few of the dining rooms I visited were palpably under-staffed.
Yesterday, Cowboy sent me a link to an article in the Las Vegas Sun, which reported that the Michelin Guide Rouge will suspend publication of their 2010 guide for Las Vegas and Los Angeles due to the “bad economy.” Although they plan on resuming publication in 2011, it’s obviously dependent on a turn-around. I’m sure more than a few restaurateurs are wincing at the news.
On the upside, almost every restaurant – including Joël Robuchon at The Mansion – offered less-expensive “prix-fixe” options. Some of the deals were quite fetching. And, despite the rough-edged service, most restaurants seemed thrilled to have one more paying butt in their chairs. The staffs were accommodating and very pleasant.
Stay tuned, as I work through my many, many, many reviews.