2009 Fine Dining Hall of Fame:
By LISA JENNINGS
ADDRESS: 3600 Las Vegas Blvd., South
(July 27, 2009) A decade ago, when Las Vegas was in the early years of its culinary awakening, the restaurant Michael Mina Bellagio was emerging as a forerunner of the dining explosion to come.
It opened originally in 1998 as Aqua, a restaurant developed by chef Michael Mina at Bellagio Las Vegas. At that point only a handful of big-name chefs had opened high-end restaurants in town. But the debut that year of the dining-centric Bellagio “reset the paradigm,” says John Curtas, restaurant critic and author of the Eating Las Vegas blog.
Along with the restaurants Le Cirque and Picasso, Aqua was part of “a murderers’ row of great cooking and high-end dining” at the Bellagio, Curtas says. “They opened the floodgates.”
Mina later split with his partners in Aqua, but he kept the restaurant there and reworked it as Michael Mina Bellagio in 2004, mirroring his namesake restaurant in San Francisco. His partner in the Mina Group is tennis great Andre Agassi.
Today, the Las Vegas strip is crowded with high-end dining options, but Michael Mina Bellagio “still earns the respect of foodies,” says Heidi Knapp Rinella, critic for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “In a city where seafood restaurants remain somewhat of a rarity, it’s arguably the best.”
It’s also one of Mina’s most successful restaurants. Despite the difficult economy, Mina says his Bellagio property ranks second in terms of sales among his 16 restaurants on the West Coast—only Stripsteak in Las Vegas does better.
“Over the past 10 years, it has really built a loyal following,” he says. “It’s amazing how we get so much repeat business there.”
The restaurant is known for such signature dishes as a lobster pot pie, ahi tuna tartare, a caviar parfait and a black-mussel soufflé. Most of those dishes are prepared tableside with a dramatic flourish that offers a modern twist on an old-school technique. It also requires a spot-on service staff, which Mina credits as one of the restaurant’s strengths.
“People come to Vegas to be wowed,” Mina says. “Tableside presentation had been done in an old-school way in Vegas for years, but we wanted to do it using great products.”
Like its sister restaurant in San Francisco, MMB offers the chef’s signature “trios,” dishes that offer three variations of one main ingredient on a plate. An American Kobe beef trio, for example, might include a skirt steak cut, a rib-eye and a short rib served respectively with English peas, Nantes carrots and soubise; au poivre with horseradish potato and shallot marmalade; and with Worcestershire sauce, sweet garlic and morels.
|Michael Mina credits part of his eponymous Las Vegas restaurant’s longevity to the timeless decor created by designer Tony Chi.|
Curtas praised the restaurant’s executive chef Anthony Amoroso and pastry chef Sarah Kosikowski, both of whom maintain consistency in execution.
“It’s a fabulous restaurant in terms of the food, but it’s also very precise,” Curtas says. “Technically, it’s almost perfect.”
Mina also attributes the concept’s longevity to designer Tony Chi, who was brought in by Bellagio developer Steve Wynn.
“I think it’s one of the few rooms in Vegas that has stood the test of time in terms of not looking dated,” Mina says.
Mina isn’t done with Las Vegas. He plans to open a new restaurant called American Fish in the new City Center scheduled to open this fall.
Still, as his restaurant group grows, Mina maintains a hands-on connection with Michael Mina Bellagio and its sister restaurant in San Francisco.
“Those are the only two I’ve put my name on,” he says. “The food is truly unique.”
Crustacean American Classics Trio: sweet shrimp cocktail, horseradish, tomato gelée; Maine lobster roll, citrus aïoli and little gem lettuce; and crab po’ boy with sauce rémoulade $29
Tartare of Ahi Tuna with sesame oil, toasted pine nuts, garlic and chiffonade of mint $22
Three Lil’ Birds Trio: chicken with mushroom ragoût, garlic, Alba hazelnuts; Cavendish Farms quail, bacon, aged sherry; Liberty Valley duck, tomato chutney, white corn polenta $38
Mountain Meadows Boneless Rack of Lamb with braised lamb shoulder, ricotta cavatelli and Cerignola olive jus $54
Miso-Glazed Black Cod with baby bok choy, zaru soba and mushroom dashi $43
Medallion of Ahi Tuna with seared foie gras and pinot noir sauce $39
Phyllo-Dusted Dover Sole with Dungeness crab brandade and sauce Dijon $50
Roasted Whole Hudson Valley Foie Gras with apricot chutney, warm citrus bread MP
Old Fashioned Trio: chocolate coconut s’more; lemon meringue with blueberry; banana split with malted milk ice cream $15
Michael’s Root Beer Float with sassafras ice cream, root beer sorbet and warm chocolate chip pecan cookies $15
Manjari Chocolate Cake with blackberries, lavender and pinot grape sorbet $15
Strawberry Milk Panna Cotta with pistachio financier and hibiscus sorbet $15