The Best City in the USA for Food and Wine by Ron Kapon

New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta and Los Angeles may be the finalists, but the winner is Las Vegas! There are 120 Master Sommeliers in the world (wine knowledge and blind tastings are part of the rigorous exam). Seventy-four of them live in the USA, thirteen of whom work in Las Vegas. There are celebrity chefs who promote their TV shows, books, clothing lines, pizza, etc. and rarely turn on a stove. I have eliminated the two most prominent examples from this discussion. If you put your name on a restaurant you should be there working at least half the time. There are 76 Wine Spectator Grand Award winning restaurants world-wide and 4 are in Las Vegas; 28 of the 700 “Best Of” Award of Excellence restaurants are also in Las Vegas. Follow along with me as I sliced, diced and slurped my way through five days of the best food and wine of Las Vegas. But first, a brief summary of what I did outside the food and wine scene.

 

Janelle Brown of the New York Times in 2004 wrote: “When the Rat Pack moved out, Las Vegas lost its reputation for chic. Between the ubiquitous frozen margaritas, the roving bachelorette parties, the theme-park décor (and don’t forget the $3.99 buffets), the town scared away the nation’s arbiters of taste. The emerging Las Vegas is now sexy rather than tacky, knows its contemporary design and is definitely priced for the high-roller crowd.”

 

Ron’s Choices: Take the kids to Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay. If you are of a certain age and love the music of the 1950/1960’s stroll over to the Sahara Hotel’s Conga Room for the Coasters/Platters/Drifters concert. There are no four letter words and I, along with most of the crowd, knew all the songs. The hotel is a bit like the audience, old and creaky. Since I was staying with my cousin who is a Major in the Air Force and headquartered at Nellis Air Force Base. I took his suggestion and saw one of the IMAX shows at the Luxor Hotel: Fighter Pilot, filmed at Nellis.

 

Lance Burton, magician extraordinaire, has his own theatre at the Monte Carlo Hotel. Even sitting in the third row center I couldn’t figure out how all those doves kept appearing from his rolled up sleeves. If you can get tickets for one of the five Cirque du Soleil (literal translation is Circus of the Sun) shows go for it. I saw “KA” at the MGM Grand and all I can say is WOW!! It combines acrobatic performances, martial arts, puppetry, multimedia and pyrotechnics. The show’s title is inspired by the ancient Egyptian belief in the “ka” an invisible spiritual duplicate of the body which accompanies every human being throughout this life and into the next. I had less than 15 minutes to run through the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum at the Venetian Hotel for a bit of cultural perspective. For true Las Vegas kitsch I stopped at the stretch of Fremont Street known as the Fremont Street Experience. The Neon Museum has rescued signs and placed them in this pedestrian street of souvenir shops, strip clubs and low-rent casinos. The two block stretch is canopied by an L.E.D screen with 12 million lights and two stages for shows. Bring your sunglasses. For the best views of the strip travel to the older north end of Las Vegas Boulevard ( where the aforementioned Sahara sits) and the Stratosphere Tower. Head to the top (1,149 feet) that offer panoramic views of the entire Las Vegas Valley. An alternative is the Top of the Eiffel Tower at Paris LV at 460 feet ,or dine 56 stories up at Alize at the Palms Hotel (an Andre Rochat restaurant). Even though I didn’t dine at Andres the nighttime view was fabuloso. I had a car, and drove to Lake Mead/Hoover Dam, less than an hour outside town. There is always a bus tour since a car is not really needed in LV. Alas, I did not have time to get to the Liberace Museum or Classic Car Museum.
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Hoover Dam

With that out of the way it is time to wine and dine. *** Next to the name meant I ate at the place mentioned below or interviewed the chef/owner/sommelier/GM. This list is obviously not all inclusive as I only had five full days. The MGM/Mirage group includes 10 hotels (MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, Bellagio, The Mirage, TI, Monte Carlo, Luxor, New York-New York, Excalibur and Circus Circus) and their outside and inside public relations personnel arranged most of my meals and shows.
MGM Grand- *** Joel Robuchon and L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Chef Robuchon cooks here at least six times a year. He was named Chef of the Century and his Joel Robuchon restaurant has won a Mobil 5 Star restaurant (one of 17 in the U.S.) as well as an AAA Five-Diamond Award. The five room space recalls the glamour and elegance of 1930’s Paris. L’Atelier presents his cuisine in an accessible, informal style. Sommelier Darren Lutz is great at food and wine pairings. 750 wines; tre cher and elegant.
*** NOBHILL- Michael Mina restaurant- 500 wines, 70 champagnes. Try to get one of the semi-private cabanas by the entrance. Meant to recreate the atmosphere and cuisine of San Francisco. Saw KA after dinner.
Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House has 1,275 wines and a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence. I doubt Emeril has much time to man the kitchen here.

 

Bellagio- Celebrity restaurateur Sirio Maccioni sent his son Mario out here 8 years when the Bellagio first opened. *** Le Cirque & Osteria del Circo have 1,000 wines and the elegance the Maccioni’s bring to everything they touch shows. Both restaurants have a Wine Spectator Best Award of Excellence award.
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Picasso has 1,525 wines on their list assembled by Master Sommelier Robert Smith. Another Wine Spectator Grand Award winner and a AAA 5 Diamond winner. French cuisine with a hint of Spanish influence. It is hands off the numerous works of art by the great master Picasso. Cirque du Soleil’s “O” plays here and may be the toughest ticket in town.
Mandalay Bay- I spent a lot of time here. *** Aureole- William Sherer- wine director- a Charlie Palmer restaurant. He has many places outside of his home base of Chicago. Does he still cook here? No other place in LV comes close as a wine lover’s mecca. This Wine Spectator Grand Award winner with over 5,000 selections has a 42 foot temperature controlled wine tower with Mission Impossible bungee jumping “wine angels” who are trained acrobats and gymnastics. Their rare wine collection includes half-a-dozen examples of the prestigious 1900 vintage in Bordeaux. Ask about the eWinebook, the world’s first electronic wine list. Worth the show.
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Aureole Wine Tower

*** Fleur de Lys- Jason Reed sommelier. Chef Hubert Keller commutes from his restaurant in San Francisco and is here at least twice a month. 900 wines, with 100 ½ bottles (great for single diners). Best of Award of Excellence from WS. The chef loves to DJ on occasion. In 2005 Bon Apetit Magazine named Fleur de Lys as one of the nation’s “Hot 50 Restaurants.”
*** RM Seafood is comprised of restaurant RM and R bar café- at Mandalay Place. Located on a 100,000-square-foot sky bridge connecting Mandalay Bay and Luxor resorts it is the first retail center in the world directly attached to two major casino resorts. Christopher Janz- sommelier and beverage director. Chef Rick Moonen has moved to Las Vegas from NYC and is in the kitchen 5 or 6 nights a week. 450 wines designed to compliment seafood specialties with fresh fish flown in 7 days a week. Although Rbar café is less formal than restaurant RM, the same menu items are available.

 

*** STRIPSTEAK- A Michael Mina Restaurant with 600 wines including a rare collection of cult classic California wines and a separate Single Malt Scotch list of 100.
Directly opposite RM Seafood is *** 55 Degrees Wine Shop & Bar owned by the Mandalay Bay Resorts. There are 2,000 wines; 30 by the glass. Silver Oaks & Caymus are the most popular premium wines at the bar (what no Thunderbird?).
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Ron and Andre Rochat at Andre’s French Restaurant

Monte Carlo- *** Andre’s French Restaurant was voted #1 restaurant in Las Vegas by Zagat’s Guide. A Wine Spectator Best of Award winner with 1,700 wines. Chef/owner Andre Rochat patterned this restaurant, opened in 1997 after his longtime first venture opened in 1980, in the Fremont Street area. It is reminiscent of Versailles, with its ornate Renaissance décor and gilded opulence. The Louis XVI Salon located upstairs is the best place to enjoy a fine cigar and rare Cognac’s. The chef has assembled the most extensive collection of rare vintage Cognac’s this side of the Atlantic. His oldest being a 1777 Jacques Hardy honoring the first flag of the United States of America. Andre is not a late bloomer but the veteran of fine dining in town and he honored me by joining me for dinner. In 2001 he added Alize on the 56th floor of the Palms Hotel with 2,200 wines and another Best of Award of Excellence. I went from dinner directly to the Lance Burton magic show.
Palms- *** N9NE Steak House- Pronounced as Nine. Christian Margesson- wine director- has 850 wines. Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence. Also renowned for its champagne and caviar bar.

Paris Las Vegas- Eiffel Tower Restaurant has 900 wines with a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence. Located 11 stories up it has a panoramic view along the strip along with a romantic piano bar.
Napoleon Champagne Bar- 100 champagnes and sparkling wines.
Venetian- Piero Selvaggio Valentino- Wine Spectator Grand Award winner- 2,400 wines. Sister restaurant to world renowned Valentino’s in Santa Monica. Voted best Italian restaurant in Las Vegas.

 

Delmonico Steak House- Owned by Emeril Lagasse; Master Sommelier Kevin Vogt is in charge of the collection of 1,800 wines. Another Wine Spectator Grand Award winner.

 

Wynn Las Vegas- There are 17 sommelier in house with 100,000 bottles of wine. Master Sommelier Paolo Barbieri can be found at Alex with 1,100 selections including over 200 burgundies.

 

The all Italian wine list at Bartolotti Ristorante di Mare is 23 pages including 23 dessert wines. Steve Wynn insisted that his chefs live in Las Vegas and so far all but Daniel Boulud have done so.

 

Rio- 50,000 bottles of wine including 1800 Madeira from Thomas Jefferson’s cellar.

Caesars Palace- Master Sommelier Lois De Santos can be found at Wolfgang Puck’s Spagoin the Forum Shop area that features California-style cuisine.

Guy Savoy has opened his only American restaurant which features 1,500 wines and the Menu prestige at $290.

Please don’t consider this a complete listing as I said in the beginning I only had five days in Las Vegas, this time.