Letter of the Week – Au Revoir to ALEX and All That
ELV note: The following comes from our Facebook exchange with Eric Gladstone about the whys and wherefores of ALEX‘s closing in the Wynn tomorrow night, and what it means for Las Vegas’ dining scene. Consider it a supplement to Gladstone’s article this week in the Las Vegas Weekly about the demise of this short lived (May 2005-January 2011) grande dame.
The patron who would best appreciate Restaurant Alex is not the patron Wynn/Encore is looking to attract anymore. Unless he’s bringing his 20-something son or daughter along, with access to the credit card [Speaking of the credit card, they might want to note that—specials aside–.fine dining price points certainly haven’t gone anywhere—Lakeside Grill’s entrées average in the $50 range. Perhaps linen suppliers are the most endangered species in the equation.] It’s hard to recall any example in modern Las Vegas history of a property changing its customer focus so dramatically.
One could point to the Cosmopolitan’s new array of exciting food as a study in contrast, but I’d prefer to look at Mr. Wynn’s former home Bellagio. Still there since the Wynn era: Todd English’s Olives, Julian Serrano’s Picasso, Jean-George’s Prime, Le Cirque/Circo, Petrossian Caviar, Michael Mina (formerly Aqua, but that was essentially an earlier version of the same restaurant)… oddly enough, more of Wynn’s original array of restaurants at Bellagio have stayed the same than have changed. Including the high-end French dining.
But running any restaurant in a very crowded market is never simple, as the reopening of a radically casual-ized Fleur at Mandalay Bay, and the backstage drama at City Center’s Eve (bankruptcy and investor lawsuits) both illustrate.
Regardless, as dining continues to be an undeniably siginificant draw for Vegas visitors, one has to wonder why so many of the resorts—in contrast to trends in every other major American city– are encouraging their chefs to simplify, dumb down, and offer fancy versions of pizza, hamburgers and other ubiquitous comfort foods. One wonders why every restaurant’s survival need hang on a Darwinian battle, rather than a unique draw. Why would any tourist come to Vegas to spend more money for a version of the same food they can get at the mall at home?
Sincerely and sadly,
Many points are well taken, but leave many a question unanswered. Is Wynn/Encore selling out to the nightclubbing/douchebag crowd? When its entire focus from the get-go has been the super-luxury market? We doubt it. Are the F&B execs there really content to offer in-house steakhouses and rampant mediocrity (excepting Bartolotta, of course) as their dining options? It seems so. Does this signal their belief that name chefs and excellence don’t matter anymore? Well…uh…yeah. (Good luck getting any future press because of your restaurants, Steverino.)
It reminds us of a quote (paraphrased here) we read on the air at KNPR over a year ago, referring to the headlong casual-ization of American dining: The rush to less formality, smaller plates and more options may, in the long run (and despite the hype of a brave new world of restaurant dining), signal nothing more than a retreat (and an excuse to retreat) from quality.
All or none of this could be true…or the closing could simply be because the notably vitriolic/volatile/verbose Wynn got into a screaming match with Stratta a gave him the heave ho. (Don’t believe for a minute that a world-class talent like Alex S. will be content running the STRATTA food factory that bears his name.)
BTW: Loved the line about linen suppliers being an endangered species. Sad but true.