After 20 years of relentless expansion and dalliances with seemingly every nationally known chef and restaurateur, Sin City's dining scene appears to be maturing and deepening without sacrificing its trademark seasonings of mindless fun and wretched excess.
Among the highlights of the past 18 months have been the launches of two world-class French restaurants where diners can blow all their earnings and then some on a few awesome dishes, a note-perfect companion to one of New York's most sophisticated modern Italian eateries and a nostalgia-drenched re-creation of a legendary saloon that feels more at home here than at its century-old base in Harlem.
Even more offerings are in the works at the soon-to-be-completed Palazzo addition to The Venetian hotel and at the $7 billion CityCenter complex (due in 2009).
The gourmands-gone-wild spirit no doubt will continue to thrive at the established resorts. But for the moment, the worldly flavor of the city is best captured at these recent arrivals:
Entrees: $19 to $49; fixed-price menus, $75 and $85
Location: The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Information: 702-266-9977; bandbristorante.com
Mario Batali of Molto Mario fame and partner Joe Bastianich were smart not to jump on the Vegas bandwagon too early. They concentrated on honing their New York restaurant empire (Babbo, Del Posto, Esca) over the past decade before heading west this spring to set up shop in The Venetian. They've crafted a handsome, serious, modern-Italian-themed place that borrows and improves upon the best aspects of Babbo, their highly rated New York venture. Batali showcases his edgy pastas (best experienced on the $75 pasta-tasting menu), artisanal charcuterie and his penchant for under-appreciated animal parts (tripe and lamb brains are must-haves), and Bastianich has created an Italian-dominant wine list that's heavy on lesser-known and value-priced wines. The two upscale/casual dining rooms, separated by a bar, are less crazed than those at Babbo. The noise level is slightly more tolerable, and the service is perhaps less rushed, so the dining experience can be at least equal to that in the New York flagship. Diners looking for a more downscale experience should check out the partners' new Enoteca San Marco nearby.
Entrees: $75 to $155; fixed-price menus, $225 and $360
Location: MGM Grand Hotel, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Information: 702-891-7925; mgmgrand.com