Sara Steele is one of our own. An Eldorado High School graduate, she earned degrees from both the California Culinary Academy and the College of Southern Nevada before turning her talents to pastry. She began wowing customers with her dessert carts at the Wynn and Encore a decade ago, bringing a playful touch to all sorts of classic cookies, candies, and sweets at Botero and Lakeside. Then she left the grind of restaurant work for a while, much to the dismay of her fans. But the siren song of culinary creativity lured her back to the Chica kitchen when it opened earlier this year, and pan-Latin desserts have never tasted so good.
Steele’s forte is tweaking the familiar in fascinating ways. Lemon donuts are given a new personality when made with ricotta — and a definite wardrobe upgrade when dressed with white chocolate dulce de leche sauce. You won’t find a richer tres leches cake this side of Mexico City, and her take on the Venezuelan marquesa de chocolate is a study in sinful indulgence. Getting every dessert in the house is always the best option here, since there never seems to be enough donuts or churro-fried ice cream pops to go around. Sara Steele can make desserts sing in any language.
The Venetian Hotel and Casino
ELV note: Here they are, food fans, the only restaurant awards that count in our humble burg. Put together by three devoted critics — Jim Begley, Mitchell Wilburn and yours truly — and thoroughly vetted by über-editor Andrew Kiraly, these accolades get published every year in Desert Companion magazine, and are the result of intense research, discussion and fat-chewing. I’m only reprinting the ones I wrote for the ‘zine on these pages today (as sort of a Merry Christmas present to all the recipients), but to see the complete list and article, click here.
There are two requirements for a dessert to be magnificent: one, that it be intense; and two, that it be French. A French renaissance of sorts has blossomed off the Strip in the last year, and the team at Eatt is one of the restaurants doing the food of its homeland proud. On a menu full of standouts both lavish and light, it is Vincent Pellerin’s desserts that will have you swooning — and forgetting about all the delicious, healthy fare you just had for dinner. These classic cream puffs, named to celebrate the Paris-to-Brest bicycle race, are filled with a praline cream, then topped with a house-made chocolate bar and caramelized hazelnuts. They come three to an order, which won’t be enough — whether there’s one person at the table, or three.
EATT GOURMET BISTRO
7865 W. Sahara Ave.
Running a three-meal-a-day restaurant in a busy Las Vegas hotel has to be one of the toughest jobs in the hospitality business. It’s one thing if the operation is a glorified coffee shop, but quite another if it aspires to be a top-flight French steakhouse with a wine bar, an outdoor patio, and a menu that runs the gamut from sparkling oysters to eggs Benedict to dry-aged ribeyes. Add a cheese program, au courant cocktails, tableside Caesar salads, rolling beverage carts, artisanal beers, and late-night dining, and you have the service challenge to end all service challenges. But every day of every week, from daybreak until well past midnight, G.M. Louis Hirsch (pictured) keeps Morel’s Steakhouse running like a luxury timepiece. I ate four meals here in the past year — two when I was recognized and two when I was not — and the service was perfect every time. JL Carrera’s classic steakhouse fare never disappoints; the ease and professionalism with which it is served, morning, noon and night, only deepens the pleasure of dining at this unsung restaurant.
MOREL’S FRENCH STEAKHOUSE & BISTRO
The Palazzo Hotel and Casino