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Dining á Las Vegas

Las Vegas Restaurants
Harvey Steiman
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Costner, Nov/Dec 00

(continued from page 1)

Things are different today from 1995, when Chicago superstar chef Charlie Trotter closed his restaurant at the MGM Grand within a year and left, citing pressure to make the restaurant bigger. At the time, people weren't coming to Las Vegas for the dining. Now they do. "What's great," says Stratta, "is that people come here and are willing to try anything. We have first-time diners who never saw a sweetbread before, but they're on vacation, they heard that gourmet food is the thing, so they try it and they say, 'Wow, this is pretty good.'"  

Julian Serrano notices it, too. "Every day more people are coming to Las Vegas to eat," says the chef of Picasso, rated by Wine Spectator as the top restaurant in Las Vegas and one of the top 20 in the United States. "These are savvy establishments and they are coming here with more expectations these days. That's more pressure on me, but it also makes Picasso a better restaurant."  

Stratta and Serrano are rare birds: star chefs who make their homes in Las Vegas and focus all their attention on their restaurants there. At the others, absentee chefs and restaurateurs must divide their time between their original places and their Las Vegas outposts. As a result, most observers agree, the Las Vegas version of a famous restaurant seldom delivers the same experience as the original.  

Star Canyon's Stephan Pyles has had to add steak and lobster dishes to his Las Vegas menu, which is also missing some of the more esoteric items ("I can sell corn fungus in Dallas but not in Las Vegas," he chuckles) that give his original menu in Dallas some of its flair. "To really experience Star Canyon you have to be in Texas," he says. "In Las Vegas things are one step removed."  

At Aqua Las Vegas, chef-owner Michael Mina intentionally makes things different from the original Aqua in San Francisco. "You can't change the signature dishes that everybody looks for, such as the tuna tartare, the lobster pot pie, the caviar parfait," Mina says. "The other 70 percent, the style is the same but the dishes are different, based on the different mix of fish and seafood we can get in Las Vegas. We want people dining in San Francisco and Las Vegas to have a different experience."  

That does not impress such skeptics as Drew Nieporent, whose Myriad Restaurant Group would seem to be a natural for Las Vegas with such hit restaurants as Montrachet and Nobu in New York and Rubicon in San Francisco. "I think the jury is still out," Nieporent says. "It's a good thing and a positive thing that there has been this unbelievable influx of carpetbag restaurants in the city of carpetbaggers. But I don't think you can say it's become a culinary capital, only because there is a dumbing down of the process."  

Dumbing down or not, several chefs have hit enough of a jackpot with their first Las Vegas restaurants that they have added others. Todd English has Olives at Bellagio and Onda at the Mirage. Lagasse has Emeril's New Orleans Fish House at the MGM Grand and Delmonico at The Venetian. Wolfgang Puck is the champ with five restaurants, including Spago and Chinois at Caesars Palace, Postrio at The Venetian, Wolfgang Puck Café in the MGM Grand and Trattoria del Lupo at Mandalay Bay.  

"Our headquarters should be in Las Vegas," Puck says with a laugh. "That's where most of our business is. For fine dining, Las Vegas represents about 50 percent of our revenue." Puck's four Las Vegas operations (not counting the Café) earn as much as the combined total of his seven other high-profile restaurants (Spagos in Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Chicago and Palo Alto; Chinois in Santa Monica; Granita in Malibu; and Postrio in San Francisco).  

Miller, who visits often enough to keep the menus and spice levels of his Southwestern cuisine the same in Las Vegas as they are at the original Coyote Café in Santa Fe, is so enthusiastic that he plans to open two more restaurants in Las Vegas, one serving Caribbean cuisine and the other Asian food.  

"Would I rather eat at Arpège in Paris than anywhere in Las Vegas? Of course, but I'd rather be in Las Vegas," says Miller. "It's convenient. It's hassle-free. You have a lot of choices. People are generally happy. I never see people in a bad mood. You never can say that in New York, where just going out to eat means sitting in a cab in traffic for 45 minutes."  

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