Gourmets join gamblers in Vegas

A decade ago, famed California restaurateur Wolfgang Puck opened his acclaimed restaurant, Spago, and started a culinary transformation in Las Vegas. Diners in the gambling mecca had always enjoyed the sheer quantity of food at the buffets’ rock-bottom prices.

Today’s visitors are dazzled by the quality of food. One celebrity chef after another has opened signature restaurants, making Las Vegas a food-lover’s paradise. Among these culinary celebrities are Nobu Matsuhisa, Charlie Palmer, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Jean-Louis Palladin and Emeril Lagasse.

Spectacular eateries
Up and down the strip, millions of dollars have been spent designing spectacular eateries. Their beauty, though, is not just skin deep. Culinary talent from across the country is being recruited to this desert city for the day-to-day restaurant operations.

And no expense is spared when it comes to top-quality ingredients. It’s a simple concept — lure diners in with spectacular food in a beautiful setting and they’ll probably visit the adjoining casino. But the real winner here may be the epicurean. Las Vegas has become a hot dining destination.

In what otr city can you choose from five of Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants? After much deliberation, we opted for Spago. From start to finish, the meal was fabulous. The arrival of the breadbasket brought irresistible specialties, baked in-house and accompanied by complementary gazpacho. My main course was roasted black grouper with garden tomato, orzo and summer salad.

We savoured every delectable mouthful. And then we lamented that we didn’t have time to return.

Rare Sake brands
Nobu, at the Hard Rock Hotel, was our next dining experience. We wondered if it could stand up to what we had sampled at the chef’s Los Angeles location. Again, we were dazzled.

Fish lovers delight at chef Matsuhisa’s innovative and incredible tasting creations.

Sake connoisseurs can select from Japanese brands that can’t be found anywhere else in the United States.

Next page: Four-storey wine tower

Wine tower
Then it was on to the Mandalay Bay Hotel. At first glance, the restaurant Aureole with its four-storey tall wine tower is somewhat intimidating. Together with designer Adam Tihany, acclaimed chef Charlie Palmer of New York’s Aureole has created a dramatic place to dine.

Even more impressive than the setting is the American cuisine prepared by Joseph Romagna, the executive chef.

27 vegetables dish
At Prime in the Bellagio Hotel, Jean-Georges Vongerichten has done it again. While primarily known as a steakhouse, the fish preparations also shine. Dover sole with wilted spinach and baked lemon was extraordinary as was the tuna au poivre.

My husband didn’t need any prodding to finish the restaurant’s signature 27 vegetables dish — all this while watching a thousand fountains dance on the man-made Lake Bellagio.

Even with all the hoopla surrounding the celebrity chefs, Las Vegas’s renowned buffets still continue to attract crowds. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, the all-you-can-eat meals at the major hotels pack them in.

Because prices vary from one hotel to another, it’s best to compare. There’s only one sure thing in Las Vegas these days-everyone can win at the tables-the dining tables, that is.