Sit Down to the Best of Excess in Las Vegas

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:

B&B Ristorante

Entrees: $19 to $49; fixed-price menus, $75 and $85

Location: The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Information: 702-266-9977;

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.

Joël Robuchon at The Mansion

Entrees: $75 to $155; fixed-price menus, $225 and $360

Location: MGM Grand Hotel, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Information: 702-891-7925;

Escapism is the raison d'etre of Las Vegas, but a restaurant like the one opened by revered chef Joël Robuchon of Paris can leave one feeling trapped. Simply put, there is no way to get out of the place without spending at least $225 per person, not including wine, tax and tip. Make no mistake, his refined traditional French fare is fabulous and incorporates a wealth of luxury ingredients, from black truffles to caviar and Kobe beef, and the exquisite, richly appointed décor looks to be modeled after the most grand 1930s mansion in the wealthiest part of Paris. But unless you've just run the nearby craps table, your eyes may bulge when the waiter hands you the menu: a six-course menu for $225 or a 16-course menu for $360. Both include plenty of extras, including an amazing bread cart with a dozen-plus selections and a candy cart with 40-plus choices. A note at the bottom of the menu says, "a la carte menu available upon request," although you feel like a piker having to ask for it. But even then, appetizers cost $55 to $155, main dishes are $75 to $155, and desserts are $25. And the 1,000-selection wine list carries its own particular bite: Only about a dozen bottles cost less than $100, and the by-the-glass offerings run $26 to $39. If you simply must find out why Monsieur Robuchon has been deemed the chef of the century by numerous critics, one semi-reasonable option does exist next door: Book a table at his more casual L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Your check will average closer to $125 -- if you order carefully.

Restaurant Guy Savoy

Entrees: $58 to $110; fixed-price menus, $190 and $290

Location: Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Information: 877-346-4642;

Only in Las Vegas and only in the chic new restaurant from Michelin-three-star chef Guy Savoy will you find a four-course, "90-minute experience" menu -- for $190. You'd be cheating yourself, however, if you didn't spend time with these dishes, which are said to closely resemble the modernistic offerings at Savoy's famous flagship restaurant in Paris. Surprising juxtapositions of colors, temperatures and textures are the hallmarks of his earthy-meets-elegant style. One delicacy has emerged as a signature: the artichoke and black truffle soup with toasted mushroom brioche and truffle butter. Many more dishes are its equal, such as the port-glazed escargot on parsnip purée and the red snapper roasted in a salt crust. It pays to pony up for the optional wine pairings because the eager-to-please sommeliers really know their stuff. The leather-bound 2-inch-thick list of 1,950 selections is so hefty it arrives with its own stand. Best of all, the austere, contemporary and dramatically cool décor and warm and ultra-efficient approach are far less stuffy than at the finest restaurants in Paris -- or in Las Vegas.


Entrees: $18 to $44

Location: Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Information: 877-346-4642;

The century-old Rao's in the East Harlem section of New York has achieved legendary status in recent decades, not for its red sauce and sausage Neapolitan dishes nor for its Sinatra-era saloon ambience, but because it's next to impossible for mortals to snag a reservation. The same core group of quasi-celebs, politicos, insiders and friends of the owners get first dibs on the 10 tables, and they've tied them up for years. So there was reason to rejoice last winter when the Frank Pellegrino family and partners opened a branch at Caesars Palace with two 10-table dining rooms, an outdoor seating area and a bar/dining area. But reservations still can be difficult unless you're a high-roller or your concierge is well connected. The place was so popular earlier this summer that management had to pare back the bar menu offerings because the kitchen was overwhelmed. It's worth persevering, however, because at this branch the attraction may actually be the food: The deeply satisfying dishes are what most Americans have in mind when they say they want a good old-fashioned Italian meal: huge portions of pastas, meatballs the size of baseballs, cuts of meat coated with sauce and vegetables sautéed in olive oil. You get Dino and Frank on the jukebox, strings of Christmas tree lights, signed photos of celebs on the walls, and -- mamma mia! -- a store up front that hawks souvenirs. Yes, it's lovably tacky, but in the context of Vegas, it really, really works. If you can just find a seat.