ELV note: We’ve been as busy as a beaver this fall — writing for a various ‘zines and trying to finish the copy for the fourth edition of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants. Oh yes, and we also took a two-week trip to Germany and Alsace (that we’ll be writing about as soon as the book gets done), and we got engaged to be married AND we’ve been trying to keep up with our day job — saving the taxpayers’ money at the City of Las Vegas. As a result, our nights have been shorter and our ELV posts have been fewer. So, with all that in mind, we thought this would be a good time to post our recently published article in VEGAS magazine, highlighting our ideas for where to best have a bacchanalian blowout over the holidays. Read on, happy holidays, and we’ll resume more regular postings once all this hubbub subsides.
(Le Cirque puts its spin on egg salad)
Dining in Las Vegas is extravagant any time of year, but during the holidays, our temples of gastronomic delight really pull out all the stops—and stoppers.
In Las Vegas, creating a holiday environment all year-round is our specialty. But during our winter holidays (when, granted, you might have to look for snow in the Bellagio Conservatory rather than outside), the city’s best restaurants stage the ultimate in over-the-top dining—featuring très luxe products from around the globe brought in to satisfy gourmands looking to dress up, dine out, and drink it all in, the Vegas way.
As the French invented both the modern restaurant and Champagne, you can be assured a holiday meal at Joël Robuchon (MGM Grand, 702-891-7925) will be second to none. James Beard Award–winning Executive Chef Claude Le-Tohic (pictured above with the man himself) is a truffle snob of the best kind, and by Christmas Day, his menu is usually festooned with the finest black truffles. “After about mid-December, the white truffles start declining in quality,” he explains. “That’s when we start using truffes noires, which are much better when cooked. Many of our customers request them over the holidays.” Thus can you find these gorgeous fungi adorning everything from a mousseline served with a semi-soft boiled egg with Comté cheese to a white onion tart with smoked bacon that proves the rest of the world has nothing on the French when it comes to crafting an umami bomb.
Likewise, Restaurant Guy Savoy (Caesars Palace, 702-731-7286) is a member of this exclusive club that can demand and procure the best ingredients. Whether you opt for Savoy’s “Signature” or “Innovation” menu, expect them to shower you with every possible luxury ingredient. Savoy’s desserts (from the fondant to the petits fours) are justifiably famous, as is his Colors of Caviar dish (a diminutive glass layered with caviar crème fraîche, caviar vinaigrette, haricot vert purée, Russian golden osetra caviar, and warm sabayon). Dramatically, a gorgeous pumpkin soup is served right from the giant gourd as it’s wheeled around the room. Let Head Sommelier Phil Park guide you through one of the great wine lists of the world (with quite a few bargains for such an elite address) and you’ll wine and dine the most festive way of all, which is, of course, the France-meets-Vegas way.
Ringing in the New Year by feasting on the Robuchon or Savoy bread and cheese carts may seem like the perfect way to pack on a few holiday pounds, but Executive Chef Ming Yu’s Wing Lei (Wynn Las Vegas, 702-770-7000) is equally lavish. Well-heeled Asian families—and others in the know—reserve well in advance for the dim sum cornucopia served only between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. Afcionados of these little bites “from the heart” will swoon over Yu’s epicurean uptake on such standards as har gow (crystal skin shrimp dumplings) and shumai dumplings, barbecue pork buns, and those delightful little custard pastries known as don tot. The restaurant—one of the world’s prettiest even when it isn’t the holiday season—bustles with white-gloved butlers delivering all of these goodies to your table. There are even master sushi chefs on hand for seafood lovers, and an imperial Peking duck carved to order. It’s a genuine winter solstice bacchanalia.
Prime, aged, Brobdingnagian cuts of beef and great red wine are as about as bacchanalian as you can get, and Carnevino (Grand Canal Shoppes at Venetian and Palazzo, 702-789-4141) is where Christmas carnivores gather to share a classic Florentine porterhouse, or a dry-aged, bone-in rib eye, that claims to be for two on the menu, but is more than enough for four. “Holiday time is my favorite time of the year,” says Executive Chef Nicole Brisson, “and we love it when large parties come in and share everything from pastas to steak, or the Feast of the Seven Fishes we do only at Christmastime.” Those pastas are some of the best in the business, and shaving a boatload of truffes over them (at a price) is a tradition here that has few equals in the Italian food world.
In the end, though, the holidays are all about tradition, and no top-fight restaurant in Las Vegas has more of it than Le Cirque (Bellagio, 702-693-8100). For 17 years, the Christmas tree has gone up in the same corner, the bar has been draped with lights, and the food has been over-the-top magnificent. In what has become one of the toughest tickets in town, the service staff waltzes among the 65 festive seats, helping revelers create memories both seasonal and gastronomic. Executive Chef Wilfried Bergerhausen’s gold-crusted quail, rabbit “symphony,” special truffle tasting menu, and melting chocolate “bomb” are built upon the premise that too much of a good thing is impossible. Which, of course, is just the way it should be.