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Friday, 16 February 2007

Dining Without Limits in Las Vegas

Written by Scott Haas
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Las Vegas is the fattest city in America, according to Men’s Fitness magazine, which has published a survey of the most and least healthy spots in the country over the past ten years. That’s up from #2 in 2006. Viva Las Vegas!

Fast food and indolence contribute to the huge girth of so many citizens of this rollicking city, but far more than fried food, fast cars, and the TV remote control, it’s the mentality of giving into desire and fantasy. Las Vegas doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase, “Just say no!”

I had changed planes there 20 years ago during its dwindling era of showgirls, organized crime, graft, and huge all-you-can-eat buffets. Back then, the city was captured in Martin Scorsese’s “Casino” and Hunter Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

But nowadays Las Vegas is like a colony on the planet Mars as seen in “Total Recall.” Everything is bright, noisy, fast, exciting, and delightful. Best of all, the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred more than any other place I’ve ever been. Is that a millionaire at the roulette table? Or is he an actor hired by the casino to look like a winner? Is that couple in love? Or has money changed hands to bring them together?

Stripsteak ©K. Petzke
No place epitomizes the bigness, lushness, and fantastic qualities of Las Vegas better than its restaurants. The food is delicious at the upscale spots with no limits placed on the chef’s imagination. As long as the chef continues to pack them in, the backers will allow him or her to use ingredients, techniques, and equipment that are simply too expensive to employ elsewhere on this planet. As the chef indulges his or her fantasy, so do the customers.

The world’s best chefs are all in Las Vegas with truly spectacular, showboat restaurants: Joel Robuchon (“The World’s Greatest Chef,” according to Patricia Wells, formerly of the International Herald Tribune), Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, and Guy Savoy, are among them.

At Michael Mina’s Strip Steak, beef is poached in various types of fat and then grilled. The result? The juiciest, most tender beef imaginable with a terrific seared exterior that seals in the flavor.

Stripsteak ©J. Ormond

“It’s an incredible opportunity to work here,” said Strip Steak’s executive chef, Anthony Carron. “We get to use the world’s finest ingredients. There’s no place else like it.”

Fantasy comes at a price, of course. The Japanese beef used at the restaurant for its rib eye goes for $165 a portion. Where’s the beef? There it is, boom!

stripsteak fries
Stripsteak ©J. Ormond

Other restaurants offer equally wonderful (and pricey) meals: Bouchon, Le Cirque, Picasso, Olives, Shibuya, Craft Steak, or Social House, for example.

But the crown jewel of the Las Vegas dining establishment has to be Joel Robuchon at the Mansion, which is right inside the casino of MGM Grand. In order to get to the restaurant, you must walk by hundreds of slot machines and gaming tables. On the inside, you might as well be in Paris—the illusion is brilliant. The bar area is a mellow combination of red and black and the cozy dining room is extremely sedate. A fake garden with a wall of ivy abuts the room.


Chef Robuchon’s food on its own is transporting—deep flavors culled from small tastings of foie gras, black truffles, seared fish, Japanese beef, and risotto work miracles on the palate as the kitchen crew has coaxed the essence from what’s served. What’s fascinating is the way in which the setting around the restaurant disappears with each bite. It’s the opposite of terroir—the idea that a romantic evening in Paris adds to the meal. Here, surrounded by gambling, the chef has to create a new reality.


“We want to remove the customer from reality while he’s here,” said Chef Robuchon. “To forget where he is—while you’re in the restaurant you can forget you are in the middle of casino.”


© Scott Haas

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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