I have a couple more posts to do about our Alaska adventure, but I wanted to take a quick break to talk food! Specifically, some of my favorite places to eat in one of my favorite cities, Las Vegas. Vegas is one of those “love it or hate it” places; I don’t know too many people who feel neutrally about it. I unabashedly fall into the former camp. People are often confused by this, because I don’t gamble (at least since my very first trip to Vegas when my friends and I each lost $20 on blackjack in approximately two seconds of play), I can’t stand the smell of cigarette smoke, and I don’t really drink, but there’s so much to love about Vegas aside from the casinos and partying.
When we lived in California we visited Vegas about once a year. Our trips there were always the epitome of relaxation and usually consisted of not much more than lounging by the beautiful pool of whatever hotel we’d gotten a great deal on (you might not believe how cheap the hotels there can be during their long, scorching summers, especially mid-week), walking up and down the strip people-watching and checking out the glitzy casinos, and, of course, indulging in great food. And while Vegas has a lot of great food, it also has a lot of overpriced, mediocre food. Hopefully these recommendations will help you sort out the former from the latter.
In my opinion, the best fine dining in Vegas is Julian Serrano’s incredible Picasso, which was easily one of the top five meals I’ve ever had. The dégustation menu (which doesn’t appear to have changed since we dined there a couple years ago) includes Maine lobster salad, a pan-seared scallop over potato moaussaline (a fancy mashed potato), foie gras and quince, halibut or lamb, and your choice of dessert. Each one of these courses was exceptional and it was really a perfect meal from start to finish. They also offer shorter, cheaper prix fixe and pre-theater menus. The restaurant has real Picassos on the walls, which they completely encourage you to ogle and photograph, so you can justify the price of dinner as a combination meal and art museum visit ;)
This restaurant is also located in the beautiful Bellagio, my favorite casino in Vegas. Make sure to check out the Chihuly glass flower ceiling and the famous Bellagio fountains before or after your meal.
I would love Bouchon for no other reason than that they allow dogs (and in fact are the only dog-friendly restaurant I know of on the strip – Vegas is not a dog-friendly town), but I’m happy to report that the food is absolutely excellent, if a bit overpriced, and the atmosphere on their outdoor patio is lovely. Highlights include the complimentary epi bread with butter and jam, eggs and Lyonnaise potatoes, and the almond blueberry mini-muffins that were part of their Mother’s Day brunch.
Dancer gives it four paws up too!
Mon Ami Gabi is another great French restaurant, although the menu has more variety and is less classically French than Bouchon. The average price is also quite a bit lower, and the restaurant has great views of the Bellagio fountains. Unfortunately their outdoor seating area does not welcome dogs, but if your party contains only humans, I’d probably recommend this over Bouchon, since I think it’s a better value for the money and more likely to please a large group with differing tastes. Highlights include steak frites, the lobster roll with homemade chips, and the steak sandwich.
I love buffets in theory, but in reality most of them, including Vegas buffets, disappoint me with lukewarm, mass-produced food. Luckily, Wicked Spoon in the swanky new Cosmopolitan hotel is the exception to this rule. Much of the food comes in individual ramekins so it turns over quickly and doesn’t sit in large bins getting cold. The buffet also has a variety that’s hard to beat on the strip and an extensive dessert selection, including enormous chocolate covered strawberries and molten lava cakes (not the best ones I’ve ever had, but still – molten lava cakes on a buffet!) This is definitely the best buffet I’ve been to in Vegas and is both far superior to and significantly cheaper than the (in my opinion, wildly overrated) Bellagio buffet.
Finally, Scarpetta is a great option for a nice Italian meal. This is the Vegas outpost of the New York restaurant that received a lot of attention and “best new restaurant” awards when it opened back in 2008. Relatively affordable for the strip, this place has excellent, hearty pasta dishes and a superb and readily refilled bread basket. The beef short rib agnolotti was my favorite dish.
None of these restaurants are off the beaten path, and I recommend reservations at all of them. Wicked Spoon buffet does not take reservations (except for very large parties) and Bouchon does not take them for brunch. I’d expect a wait at those places at peak meal times. It’s less true now than it was during the recession, but Vegas is a town that thrives on deals and coupons, especially for food, so keep your eyes peeled. It might be worth checking with your hotel concierge to see if they know about coupons for any of the places you’re planning to eat. Happy eating!