Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Beer and Bloating...Las Vegas

Las Vegas is one of the most interesting spectacles in the world... rising as if out of nowhere, it crams more glitz, neon and excess into a 2.5 mile long strip than most other cities contain in their entirety (for better or for worse, depending on your inclination). A veritable theme park for adults, anything you want can be had in Vegas no matter what your interests or vices are. Most people come to party but there are other pastimes on hand: from baking by the pool to Broadway shows to embracing your inner anthropologist (via supreme people watching), anyone can find their niche here.

The penchant for better, fancier and more expensive has had an interesting effect on the food scene there. Las Vegas has more top shelf chefs per square mile than anywhere else in the world. But, in grand American style, there is plenty of "food" made from dubiously industrial ingredients: what is in those nasty boozy slushies anyways? And then there is the portions! While  portion size in Canada is already too large, Americans do it bigger. The amount of food on offer is more than any man, woman or child should ever consume and those who excel at the sport of American style eating are on display in abundance. I couldn't help but notice how overweight so many visitors were. Not "I could stand to lose 20 pounds"...but clinically obese. Even people who would probably fall in a "normal" weight spectrum had insanely large guts on them the likes of which I rarely see here at home. But I had better get off the doom and gloom and talk about something, if you should find yourself in Vegas not too hungover, where should you eat? Here is a selection of my picks and pans from my February trip...have some favourites? disagree? Let me know!


Cheesecake Factory You come here for the ridiculously large menu and the ludicrously sized portions.  I tend to avoid chain restaurants while travelling because they don't really give you a sense of place...and American chain restaurants in particular because of the appalling food standards. However, I have to say that I always really enjoy my food at Cheesecake Factory and as we arrived in Las Vegas at lunch time absolutely starving, this place was my first hit. I really enjoy watching what other people order and eat here: at a place where I typically order appetizers for my main, people actually order appetizers, mains and cheesecake. And finish them. It's insane. We had two "small plates" to start: the crispy artichoke hearts with aioli (8 pieces for like 4 bucks...crazy!) and a baked spinach dip. Both were what we would consider appies here in Vancouver. For our mains, I had an appetizer sized salad and my husband struggled through his "lunch sized cobb". Leave full of tasty food.

Aureole Our "nice dinner" out in Vegas, Aureole was in our hotel complex at Mandalay Bay. Aureole is a Las Vegas outpost of the New York Charlie Palmer restaurant which bills itself as progressive American cuisine. As you walk in, you descend a staircase that winds around a 3 story wine case which is ascended by staff on cables. So cool. The room itself is decidedly more austere. We opted for the theatre menu at $55 for 3 courses which was an incredible bargain. There was also a very interesting 4 course tasting menu but it contained too many things that I tend not to eat, like sweetbreads. The food was delicious: each element full of unique and complimentary flavours. I had a gorgeous smoked mozzarella ravioli which was 10 times better than I could have imagined. Again, surprisingly, the portions were pretty large - I couldn't finish everything! My only real complaint was not the friendliness of the staff (which was great) but by how many people serve you over the course of the meal. I think at least 5 different staff come to your table within the first 20 minutes...kind of hard to feel at home.

Border Grill The menu says "real mexican food", which I suppose is up for debate but the food here is amazing. They make everything in house, from salsa to tortillas and then even opt to serve only purified water. The menu also features symbols for all "earth friendly options": items that are at least 80% plant based. Big brownie points in my book! Giant portions, great the Mandalay Bay Complex.

Burger Bar Hubert Keller (of Fleur de Lys fame) does burgers? Yes! Handmade veggie burger with oyster mushrooms, aioli and baby spinach on a whole wheat bun? Hell yes! All the meat is non medicated, there is a portobello or a veggie burger, you choose your burger, your bun, your side (skinny or fat fries?) and your toppings...if it isn't on the menu, it doesn't belong on a burger! Since we tend to eat close to where we sleep, yes...this one was at Mandalay Bay.

McCarran Airport, Concourse D's not a typo! This is where my dietitian side peeks out. The food offerings in American airports can be frightful. I am always a bit depressed to be caught hungry in LAX for example. But at McCarran, you can actually get something decent to eat. At Wolfgang Puck's, they make pizzas fresh to order in a wood fired oven in 8 minutes. You can also get salads, sandwiches and other fresh and healthy food. And yes, there is a Cinnabon...just in case.

Maggiano's Little Italy In the Fashion Show Mall, this is a great American Italian themed restaurant. Packed, just like Cheesecake Factory is, this is comfort food perfected. From gnocchi Vodka sauce to American classics like Beef Braciole, there should be something to satisfy everyone here. They also offer family style service for tables of four or more - so take your brood with you!

Mix My husband was lucky enough to eat here on his last trip to Vegas...Alain Ducasse is a genius...worth going if you can get a table! This time, we just went around the corner to the lounge. Being on the top floor of THE hotel, the view is absolutely amazing and they were the only place we visited that could come up with a non-alcoholic cocktail more interesting than a cranberry soda. Eating at the restaurant will get you into the lounge - on a Friday or Saturday, it might be your only chance!


Enoteca San Marco I have eaten at Mario Batali restaurants before in New York so I had a few expectations here. Great location - in the Venetian, in an indoor piazza... San Marco appears to be this great, authentic Italian restaurant, at least from the menu. We went at lunch so we just decided to have pizzas...big mistake. The crust was thick and bland as were the toppings themselves. I ordered the daily special: broccoli rabe, ricotta salata and chili peppers. Zero flavour. Even the chili peppers had been leached of all spice. It took an ocean of salt to revive it. Ditto my husband's pancetta and onion version. It made me wonder if there is so much bad food in the states that simply using high quality ingredients and slapping them on a plate without any thought equalled great food.  Having eaten at Casa Mono in New York, I know this can't be the case. The service was pretty awkward and uninspired as well. We left without trying the house made gelato. Maybe that was better.

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