VEGAS, BABY! My Top 5

So I got to thinking the other day.  Which never bodes well for anyone.  But it occurred to me in a moment of pure debauchery walking through the casino floor at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, having just had yet another blockbuster meal while clad in nothing but the best that what in hell was a blog strictly about indulgence doing without a Las Vegas entry?  It’s ridiculous and irresponsible of me, really. Because Las Vegas is the epitome, the epicentre, the birth place and shrine to all that is indulgent.  It’s Satan’s playground.  Which makes it one of the greatest places on earth for me, Satan’s best pal.

I know what you’re saying: “So on top of everything else she’s got a gambling problem?”  Not true.  I’m actually a nervous wreck when it comes to throwing away money. Serious.  I sure as hell love spending it, but at the end of the day I’d rather a guarantee I’m going to be able to show something for it than just a handful of shit-all.  So Vegas for me means something entirely different.  It’s all about the shows, the shopping, the excessive glitz and glamour, the celebration of all that is unnecessarily over-the-top fabulous…  And the food.

Back in my parents’ heyday when my mom still wore tinted glasses indoors and considered papasan chairs real furniture (Dad hasn’t changed. Like, at all.), Vegas’s culinary side was all about the all-you-can-eat buffet and the cheapest steak and eggs known to man served 24 hours a day.  Not the site for a foodie tour, exactly.  But things have changed.  Las Vegas has become a glorious celebrity chef pissing contest, the Strip adorned with five star restaurants trying to outdo the other in a culinary showdown of just who’s boss of Sin City. I’ve had some of the best meals of my life in that town, ravioli that I’ve seen singlehandedly bring a man to tears, tasting menus that will remain forever emblazoned in my memory, and dishes that have inspired me to write this very blog.  It’s time I paid homage with my top five not-to-miss restaurants in the true city that never sleeps.  Pardon the lack of pictures to document, as we’ve all come to vehemently understand that What Happens in Vegas is most definitely meant to Stay in Vegas.  (Know that whole “made a deal with the devil” thing?  After one particular trip, that’s how Satan and I got to know each other.)  Here goes:

#5  Wing Lei

One of my favorite things to eat, especially when it’s a Sunday in Vegas and all I want is something rich and fatty to soak up three days of bottle service, is Chinese food.  And Wing Lei at the Wynn Resort is some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever had.  It’s got all your favorite things like deep fried prawns with walnuts in honey cream sauce, sweet and sour pork, mongolian beef, lemon chicken, etc. but it’s your old favorites gussied up in diamonds and ready for the red carpet.  Everything here is special, and in true Vegas fashion, it’s all about going big or going home.  One of the best meals I had here was a five-course duck tasting menu, and let me tell you, it was as greasy-lip-smackingly good as it sounds.  Duck soup, traditional Peking duck carved table side served with little pancakes for wrapping and hoisin sauce, steamed buns stuffed with duck, duck fried rice… Duck, duck, and more heavenly duck, until we were bursting at the fowl-filled seams.  Sure, my hair smelled like duck the next day, but hey: it made me all the more irresistible.  To dogs.  Wing Lei’s decor is a gold and red dimly lit masterpiece fit for an emperor, too, just to match your new Louboutins that slot machine paid for.  Or that high roller paid for.  Whatever.  If all that doesn’t sell you, it’s the only Asian restaurant in North America to be granted a Michelin star. Need any more convincing?

#4  Mizumi

Fresh sushi is probably not what you’d expect in Vegas, but don’t be dumb: I’ve had one of the top three sushi meals of my entire life in Sin City.  In the competitive race to keep up with the culinary Joneses, Las Vegas’ seafood restaurants can’t afford to spare any expense when it comes to their fresh fish, so a lot of money is spent flying in the best money can buy to ensure top quality. Mizumi’s sushi and seafood is going to be on par with anything each coast can offer, and besides that, you can have your meal in what I think is the most beautiful and romantic setting in town.  Make sure to call well ahead and book the table situated by Wynn’s man-made spectacular waterfall, accessed only by a walkway across the water.  Surrounded in lush tropical flowers and lit up like a technicolor dream at night, it’s kind of impossible not to fall in love with the food or the lucky paramour fortunate enough to dine with your gorgeous self. (Seriously, that lighting looks good on everyone.)  If you don’t do sushi, they’ve got one hell of a robata menu and things like 72-hour braised Wagyu short ribs, seared foie gras (calm down) with pickled lychee, and organic Jidori chicken. But my best advice is to do omakase and have the chef create a meal to surprise you.  You’ll pay for it, yes.  But you’ll be dazzled.  Broke and dazzled.

#3 Michael Mina

I know I’ve ranted about this before.  But I’m going to do it again. This restaurant, situated in the Bellagio, is responsible for the single best thing I put in my lippy little mouth in a long, long while.  So for that reason alone, it belongs on this list and as long as Michael Mina keeps serving it, it always will belong on this list.  Plus, I just had it again three days ago and, like a long lost love who just keeps getting more beautiful with age (except less frustrating), it’s just as good if not better than I remember.  It’s an individual lobster pot pie with brandied cream sauce, succulent pieces of fresh lobster and sautéed summer vegetables encased in the butteriest of pastry crusts known to all that is holy.  Listen, I know I have a tendency to, but I’m not exaggerating.  It’s that good.  First-world problem is that you can only get it on the Chef’s Tasting Menu, which you owe to yourself to order anyway, because it’s a great way to sample all that Michael Mina has to offer.  And it has a lot to offer.  Perfect ancho chili tuna tartare, veal loin with sweetbreads and truffle sauce, a whole roasted foie gras for sharing (yeah, I’m evil, shut up), and caviar, caviar, caviar.  Oh yeah, and a gourmet root beer float served with warm chocolate chip pecan cookies for dessert.  Service is stellar, and the sommeliers are easy on the eyes and only too happy to suggest something spectacular to go with your meal, or serve pairings with the whole thing if you so care to partake. Partake, friends.  Par. Take.

#2 Bouchon

Granted I worship many a chef in the world, and have been known to get tongue-tied only while faced with the likes of one of them and Channing Tatum, there are two in particular I deem culinary gods.  One is Joel Robuchon (more on him later), and the other is Thomas Keller.  Chef Keller is known in the foodie world as the mack daddy of French-American cooking, a man so obsessed with perfection that rumour has it he’s installed cameras in all of his restaurants and watches the feed to make sure his staff are executing his food to his particular liking.  My kinda obsessive-compulsive.  His french fries have made Anthony Bourdain shake with jealousy, he’s been awarded a flipping galaxy worth of Michelin stars, and his eighteen year old restaurant The French Laundry in Napa Valley still has a two month waiting list for reservations. Bouchon has an excellent French bistro-style menu with things like pan-roasted trout, traditional Boudin Blanc (sausage and stuff), and a ridiculous macaroni gratin, but the meal I love having here, and absolutely have to have while in Vegas, is brunch.  There’s something about sitting in Bouchon’s bustling atmosphere on a weekend morning with the sun streaming in the windows  while sipping on the perfect bloody mary that just sets you right again.  And that brunch is going to set you swooning.  Start it off with a selection of fresh from the oven pastries with the restaurant’s daily jam (always changing, always stupid good), maybe a selection from the oyster bar, and then have at it with an incredible croque monsieur, brioche french toast with apples and custard, roast chicken with bacon and chive waffles, or whatever glorious omelette du jour freakshow-talented chef has decided to whip up that day.  They don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait.  But I’m told there’s a small wait at the pearly gates, too.  Not that Satan or I would know.

#1 Joel Robuchon and L’Atelier Robuchon

I’ll spare you yet another soliloquy on Chef Joel Robuchon, especially since I already wrote about him when I was in Paris here.  Just suffice it to say that if Thomas Keller is Jesus, Joel Robuchon might just be Jesus’s daddy.  I have never been stunned by a meal like I have by Chef Robuchon, and I can truly say he hasn’t been outdone by another chef in my life since. His restaurants in Vegas, like his restaurants in Paris, do not disappoint, and they are a complete must when it comes to experiencing fine dining during your visit. Restaurant Joel Robuchon is one of those once-in-a-lifetime places with an extremely hefty price tag and a very special occasion atmosphere, like when you’re ready to put a ring on it or you’ve got three weeks to live or you just won the lottery.  Or if you’re just a food whore like me.  Bathed in soft light and richly accented with plush royal purple and ruby red velvet, it’s a total dream of a room.  The ala carte menu is a stunner with luxuries like beef rib eye cooked on rock salt, truffle langoustine ravioli, and breaded and deep fried soft boiled eggs served with caviar.  But the true way to experience Joel Robuchon is the Menu Degustation, a 16 course (yes, I said six fucking teen) meal of epic proportions, complete with gourmet bread cart to start where you pick your own bread that is at once whisked off to the kitchen to be warmed, and a bonus 17th course candy cart stacked high with fresh in-house made chocolates, bonbons, and cookies. If you can get through the entirety (don’t be an idiot like me and take your pumps off halfway through under the table, because good luck getting them back on again), there’s an individual loaf of orange peel breakfast bread wrapped in cellophane waiting for you at the door as a thank you/nail in your coffin/see ya sucker gift to enjoy the next morning. But if you don’t feel like rolling around all night while having weird purple carnival dreams where all the clowns are made of candy but smell like meat, go next door to L’Atelier, which is just as great.  Set in a more casual setting with an open kitchen and high-top tables or (even better) bar seating to see all the action, L’Atelier has a fantastic menu full tapas-style eats like Iberico ham with toasted tomato bread, onion and smoked bacon tarts, and (my fave) foie stuffed quail.  They’ve also got a much cheaper degustation menu that’ll knock you off your bar stool and won’t leave you cursing Monsieur Robuchon or me the next day. It’s going to be incredibly special, either way. Live a little.

 

It’s pretty fair to say this list is going to change rather often with every trip back to my favorite little haven of heathens, but I’d say these five are a pretty good start.  Just remember: there are things that aren’t allowed in Vegas. Things like guilt. And maybe flats. Vacations are meant for being a little more indulgent than usual, so have fun, get dressed up, enjoy life, and eat your face off.

Oh, and bet on red.  (Satan’s words. Not mine, I swear.)

XOJBS

21 Comments Add yours

  1. Dangerboy says:

    That’s a pretty tasty list. I have to say I tend to hover on the MGM side of the strip when I get there. Craftsteak, with over 150 Scotches, just won’t let me get away. Shibuya is good for sushi, as well.
    I always gain a few pounds in Vegas. I’ll be sure to look you up at the next meeting of Satan’s pals. 😉

  2. Jeffrey says:

    The Chef’s Tasting Menu at Michael Mina sounds like the most indulgent thing ever.

  3. Tina says:

    I have always wanted to visit Vegas. I feel like I went with you! I am like you I hate throwing money away, I want something to show for it. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Andrew says:

    See you got some sun in the process. Though, no Lan-Lan in Vegas tales this time around? That would be the devil in high heels in LV. :sigh:

  5. Sanjay says:

    ” . . . ravioli that I’ve seen singlehandedly bring a man to tears . . . ” Really? So, you’re saying this dude was sitting at a table, right? . . . white napkin cloth jammed between his fat neck and his shirt collar . . . pokes a ravioli square with his shiny silver fork (right hand, naturally) . . . brings it up to his mouth, takes a bite . . . chews it like 2.5 times . . . STOPS . . . opens his eyes WIDE OPEN . . . drops the fork, causing it to make a loud “CLING!” sound . . . swallows . . . opens up both of his hands, palms up . . . stares straight ahead . . . tears start to WELL UP in his eyes . . . and he proclaims, ” *THIS* is the be-be-Best ravioli I have ever eaten!” . . . and then he really starts to cry, and then starts cry-eating this bomb-ass ravioli?? Really? Is that what you’re saying happened? 😉 (I know that cannot have happened at NYNY because their Italian restaurant was a piece of crap.)
    ( . . . love you on the Complex, btw!)

  6. The Captain says:

    16 rounds of dining,then dessert. Sounds like a challenge. I think the only thing I will be taking off will be my belt or at least loosen it a little. Quality photo, you even got a smile from the old guy on the right.

  7. Leigh says:

    I was all set to send you to Rosemary’s the next time you go. A bit off the Strip. A 5 star restaurant in a strip mall. The restaurant that made me fall in love with beef carpaccio and figs (in that order). But in searching for the appropriate link, I found that apparently it’s shuttered its doors: http://www.lasvegasweekly.com/news/2011/jul/13/goodbye-old-friend/. File this under ecstatically good food, missed.

  8. Alan M. says:

    I enjoyed the hell out of this post. Yet more importantly, next time you’re in Vegas I can show you the truly best food in town (maybe you don’t end up liking my choice in restaurants, but either way I have the pleasure of saying that I had dinner with Jewel Staite). Let’s make this happen!

  9. Ritzi Cortez says:

    Oh bugger, now I have a reason to go to Vegas.

    *Prepares to fritter money carelessly on good food and high heels*

    I hope you’re happy.

    RCx

  10. Josh says:

    Suddenly the McDonalds I’m eating right now seems woefully inadequate.

  11. Phil Parker says:

    Drat… and double drat!! Not only did we (me and the wifey, there is no mouse in my pocket) probably just miss you in Vegas (we were there cooking at the SALT conference at the Bellagio)…but now I read word today you won’t be able to make the ACE Comice Expo in ABQ…. No Freaking Bueno!!

    Last year we saw Stan “the Man” Lee, so this year the HUGE draw for us going was to go see you…. SIGH… guess we’ll just have to settle within the 2 dozen slave Leias walking around… but it just won’t be the same…

    On the happier note side of things, Great post! Gives us a few more places to try next visit to Sin City…

  12. Phil says:

    If I ever have the money to go, I’ll go.

  13. Ah! Yum! Lovely timing on seeing your lovely post: DH & I are presently packing & preparing to attend the World Tea Expo in Vegas, June 1-3 (and STI certification classes June 4-5). We don’t get out much while in Vegas —I know: a real crime—or sin, oh Satan’s bestie?— for the Expo, but loving your countdown. Just today received reccomendation from chiropractor for Milo’s, for seafood? Is that one on your radar? . . . At the 2011 Expo, we attended a special event at Aureole Las Vegas, where Executive Chef Vincent Pouessel and Pastry Chef Megan Romano used teas supplied by a tea company which happens to be one the suppliers we get our tea from to create an entire meal of savory and dessert dishes cooked/prepared using tea as an ingredient, with a different tea served as beverage for each course! Talk about indulgent! I wonder if Aureole is still doing that as part of their “usual” menu? We may have to check that out this year!

  14. bernicky says:

    D’la bouffe en tabarnac you have an amazing appetite and an infectious enthusiasm for food. Wonderful reviews and recommendations.

  15. Love the photobomber in your pic! Made me smile : )

  16. Jason says:

    My wife and went to Joel Robuchon last time we were in Vegas. To this day I can still remember the truffle langoustine ravioli. The smell, taste, and image of such a exquisite dish is burned into my memory. Every single part of that meal was magically, it was a great four hours and that was only for the 6 course menu!

  17. my mouth is watering from reading those reviews!

  18. CobyLyn says:

    Jewel, THANK YOU for this list! You are an angel in disguise, you little devil you!! I plan on feeding my face at every single place! A huge MUWAH to you! If I see you there I’ll send a bottle of vino your way xo

  19. Matt Stanley (@valhallan42nd) says:

    Bouchon’s Chicken and Waffles are a religious experience.

    Seriously, people. You have no idea. You may think you know, but you’re wrong.

    I’d also recommend Lotus of Siam, again, an off-Strip Thai place that is astounding.

  20. Lee Cooper says:

    We opted for the degustation menu ($385 per person, a la carte 2 course menu starts at $109) as it’s the only way to truly experience a restaurant like Joël Robuchon. Here, Mr. Robuchon has Executive Chef Claude Le Tohic at the reins. He executes with true signature Robuchon precision and his flavors balance both bold and delicate. The presentation eludes to Japanese kaiseki style with lacquered trays as a vehicle to place the beautifully prepared dishes. And of course in true fine dining style, the bread cart was beyond what you can ever imagine bread service to be. If only our stomachs could handle eating each and every variety of bread they offered. We swooned with the amuse of Caviar. What a way to begin a dinner! And everything that followed was on pointe. I can’t say which was my favorite dish because they were all stellar. Although I have to admit, I am not always a fan of foie dishes (as they are not always prepared well or they have very boring, pedestrian flavor profiles), but I nearly blacked out when I took a bite of this one. Unique but familiar, decadent but not too rich. Divine. One dish that Robuchon does so well is frog legs. They make it the most addictive morsel of food; I swear it’s crack. And I’m sorry that I lack a sweet tooth, but I am sure the 2 dessert courses that we omitted (rasberries with pistachio cream and caramel parfait with coffee mousse) were artworks that tasted heavenly as well.

  21. Shane Lockwood says:

    I was going to write “Hello Ladies! Don’t. Make. Me. Choose…” and then I noticed the photobomb. Hilarious. (And you all look fantastic).

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