Las Vegas’ Finest Eateries: A New Kind of Gamble
Remember when Las Vegas was only a few flashily adorned hotels plopped smack-dab in the middle of the desert sand, offering inexpensive food and a few ramshackle clapboard wedding chapels guaranteed to exacerbate your early mistakes? Boy, has that ever changed.
Not that many years later, the transformation of the former Sin City is mind-boggling, from $165-a-ticket entertainment to shops featuring Gucci and Cartier to some of the finest dining west of the Mississippi. Currently at home in LA trying to get my health back as soon as possible—how many reruns of Law and Order can there be anyway? — I can’t wait to return to Vegas ASAP to overindulge myself in every way possible once again. So in the interim and with apologies to EntToday’s restaurant writer extraordinaire Shirley Firestone, I thought I’d reminisce fondly about a few of my favorite places in town to load up on the best of calories.
Nine Fine Irishmen
Just a four-minute stroll through the lobby from Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity Theatre at New York-New York Hotel and Casino is one of my favorite comfort food-y restaurants in all of Vegas, Nine Fine Irishmen (702.740.6463), and you can watch the steam billowing from manhole covers along the cobblestone streets of the adjacent Greenwich Village-themed area as you walk between the two attractions.
The richly wood-paneled 9,000-sq-ft Nine Fine was built in the ol’ country and shipped to America, offering patrons food imported directly from “back home” and featuring an interior with intricate design details common in the old country’s pubs. It features a huge Victorian bar and many semi-private cottage areas for dining on two floors, including some Orient Express-ish cozy semi-private rooms perfect for a unique experience—unless you’ve eaten some of my friend Penny’s infamous brownies and the experience becomes a tad too hallucinogenic for comfort.
In a less surreal state, however, the place’s elaborate menu of Irish comfort food is a collaboration of nine of the finest chefs across Ireland and there’s also plenty of spirited craic here as well, as authentic Irish musicians contribute lively song and dance at almost any time of the day or night. Sure n’ begora, Nine Fine Irishmen is a brea place, me dluthcaras.
For those of you homesick for that other Strip, that Sunset one, check out the posh Vegas clone of the popular celeb-infused West Hollywood Sushi Roku (702.733.7373), which was named the Best Japanese restaurant in Las Vegas Life Magazine’s 2007 Epicurean Awards. Located in the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace, Sushi Roku is about as upscale as any Japanese eatery can get, a strikingly sleek wood-paneled five-star establishment rich with delicate Asian art presented against a stark urbane ambience.
Many tables in Sushi Roku face Las Vegas Boulevard at its busiest, the dark richness of the room making patrons feel as though they’re in Manhattan rather than good ol’ El Vee by offering a view of the bright lights while being warmly embraced by the restaurant’s seductive surroundings. Beyond the strikingly elegant décor, each dish served here is a work of minimalist art and there’s a page of exotic sakes offered to complement such stunning confections as sea bass in Yazu butter sauce, paper-thin beef filets wrapped around fresh asparagus, and finishing touches such as the Volcano, a molten mound of rich chocolate lava.
If Sushi Roku is all booked, roll those dice (you’re in Vegas, after all), and try your luck right next door at another LA transplant, the stylish cloning of the equally stylish BOA Steakhouse (702.733.7373), which of course is also a staple here on the Sunset Strip. The Vegas BOA features a chic design employing glowing amber, subtle earthtones and plenty of industrial stainless steel, accented by dramatic vertical bamboo poles dividing the room for ultimate privacy.
And ah, the cuisine! BOA’s goat cheese beignet is a cheese-filled jelly doughnut, the caramelized onion soup is topped with piles of gruyere, side dishes include a comforting truffled mac ‘n cheese, and although the cost of the filet mignon might equal your monthly mortgage payment, it’s worth the price. BOA even offers a $1,000 cocktail served in a Baccarat Equinox glass. My, is it any wonder BOA was the 2006 Epicurean winner for Best New Restaurant on the Strip and Best Cocktails, as well as being honored in 2007 as Best Cocktail restaurant in Las Vegas Life?
Adjacent to the monorail station which spills out into MGM Grand’s massive lobby is the gorgeous ultra-chic all-red Diego (702.891.3200), which has repeatedly been voted as the best and most atmospheric Mexican restaurant in Vegas. If you choose your table well here, you can watch the periodic crunching flow of people looking like a scene from The Day of the Locusts exiting a train directly next to you as you slug down one of Diego’s wonderful signature margaritas chosen from an unsurpassed collection of the world’s finest tequilas and prepared in a staggering selection of ways.
Including fresh guacamole made on a rolling cart brought right at your table and fashioned to your individual specifications, Diego’s down-home recipes, obviously handpicked from the Mexican countryside, create the foundation for this audaciously nontraditional traditional menu, which the place’s imaginative executive chef Noel Santos has definitely made completely his own. Using honest ingredients and modern techniques, Santos enlivens authentic native dishes with bold new twists, including a Carne Asada plate the size of your head and featuring your choice of beef ribeye or a dry-aged New York strip loin marinated in red chile adobo, then grilled over a mesquite fire and served with mole coloradito, frijoles maneados, and tequila-laced roasted cactus with onion salsa.
Diego’s Cochinita Pibil is cooked Yucatan-style, marinated in achiote and orange and then slow cooked in banana leaves with poblano rajas, black beans, pickled red onions and habanero Salsa. Wherever you may be staying, if you didn’t opt at check-in for one of those small refrigerators to be brought to your room, you’ll need one by the time you roll out of Diego, I promise. You might even think about renting a wheelbarrow to cart your stuffed takeout containers back to your hotel.
Wherever I might be lodging while in Vegas, I seem to almost always head to one place for breakfast. Raffles Café (702.632.7406), located steps away from the House of Blues in the lobby of Mandalay Bay, is a great place to wake up and shake off the night before while seated in one of the 24-hour restaurant’s expansive tropical-themed raw carved wood, open beamed dining rooms, some with a view of the hotel’s lush and unique manmade “beach.”
The standard-fare menu at Raffles is inexpensive, beautifully prepared, incredibly plentiful, and you’ll instantly feel at home and soon ready to face a day in this crazy city when cheerfully greeted with a quickly-refilled decanter of their spectacular coffee placed humanely in front of you — now, if the waiters and waitresses all whispered, your Vegas morning meal experience might be perfection.
Tip of all Vegas eating tips: even though it’s not always featured on the menu, there’s one breakfast at Raffles that can be ordered anytime: an enormous lobster omelette stuffed with brie cheese and asparagus, my favorite morning entrée ever. Eat it at any hour and I defy you to be hungry again for the rest of the day. Gee, I’m famished now. Do you think any of these places deliver to Silverlake?