Clear50° WeatherClear50° Weather

Deals make fine dining affordable in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS

Nearly every celebrity chef in the country — early adopters like Nobu Matsuhisa, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, joined more recently by Joel Robuchon, Daniel Boulud, Michael Mina, Alain Ducasse and Tom Colicchio — has a flashy restaurant in Sin City.

But what happens when every knife-wielding celeb on the planet throws his toque into the ring in Vegas and then the economy tanks?

Deals.

On the way back from the West Coast several weeks ago I stopped off for a solo culinary jaunt in Nevada's paean to neon. I didn't buy it when Vegas tried to position itself as a family destination in the 1990s and I'm not going along with the "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" mantra. I'm going to eat and tell.

Before departure, I called Leslie Frisbee, editor of Las Vegas magazine and Vegas2Go, to uncover the greatest culinary deals in Las Vegas. She's been following goings-on in the city for a few years and says that it continues to host amazing new restaurants, but that there has been, essentially, a saturation that has caused celebrity chefs to dicker on the price. In places that two years ago had a nearly $100 per-person bill and a full reservation list, fewer people are dining, and when they do they are spending less.

Thriftiness in vogue

On my last visit, Vegas was still Vegas. By that I mean, Diamonds Are Forever Vegas, Casino Vegas, with an ostentatious show of bling and crisp Benjamins. If you weren't a high roller, you at least wanted to look like one. People were ordering the $360, 16-course tasting menu at Joel Robuchon's and restaurants routinely flaunted their extravagance (e.g., the wall of 3,500 live roses at Hubert Keller's Fleur de Lys in Mandalay Bay). Now diners not only aren't in the mood to eat the $360 menu, they aren't in the mood to be seen eating the $360 menu. Thriftiness is the new black.

I rolled into town and got a $50 room rate in the pyramid at the Luxor, with a $25 food and beverage credit. This is one among many ways casino hotels are trying to keep guests on property — make it work for you, and always ask about food credits or discounts when booking a room. Planning my gustatory attack, I turned to the Web: Vegas.com lists deals and coupons, as does www.lasvegasadvisor.com. Most of the casino Web sites also list their restaurants' deals, and Vegas megastars such as Wolfgang Puck (I counted five fine-dining restaurants and many more casual Puck-stops in casinos) may list special promotions on their Web sites.

Still, the best route is old-fashioned shoe leather. I walked the casinos on the Strip and found a couple of trends. The all-you-can-eat buffet is alive and well, but with a twist. Pay one price (usually around $30) and eat all day, for breakfast, lunch, dinner and all those meals in between. Yep, another way to keep you gambling happily on property all day long.

And just about every restaurant has a banner out front proclaiming a $30 to $45 three-course seasonal menu (many offered just in the "early bird" hours before 7:30 p.m.) Once seated, though, customers are often only offered the regular menu. You have to ask for the prix-fixe deal. In fact, even in the absence of any prix-fixe evidence, it behooves you to ask if there are any special deals.

I had a stunning meal for $45 at the drop-dead gorgeous Michael Mina Nob Hill Tavern in the MGM Grand: a classic Caesar with plush white anchovy fillets; then a kurobuta pork chop with bacon lardons, braised Swiss chard and a toasted farro pilaf I'm still thinking about; and finally a childlike fantasy all grown up, a pecan praline sundae. My second-best meal was at China Grill in Mandalay Bay, with sesame-plum-sauce-glazed lamb spareribs and a plate of spicy-gingery beef dumplings, then a barbecued salmon with punchy Chinese mustard sauce and stir-fried Asian greens, and finally a hazelnut chocolate torte. Total damage? $39.

Real economic hardship

The top-grossing U.S. restaurant in 2008 was Tao Las Vegas, with food-and-beverage sales of $68.4 million. In fact, according to a Restaurants and Institutions report, seven of the top-grossing 25 restaurants were in Vegas.

Even so, there's real economic hardship here. Since Steve Wynn started all the madness in 2005, more than 80 hotel, condo and high-rise projects have risen on or near the Strip — hulking, unfinished behemoths like the stalled Fontainebleau are reminders of better times. Gaming revenues are down nearly 15 percent and new projects like CityCenter threaten to cannibalize business in the city. Even cabbies have it bad. On the way back from the Stratosphere one night, I asked the young Russian driver about business. "Lady, I waited an hour in the taxi line for your fare."

I tipped big.

But in some senses, Vegas' top restaurants are "too big to fail." Every luxury casino needs a stable of top-shelf chefs to add luster. Those chefs are offered outrageous deals to set up shop. So, with very little outlay of cash, celebrity chefs have a venue for introducing new customers to their signature styles, essentially lavish advertisements for their flagship restaurants back home. And right now they have to work harder to woo the customer. For once, in Vegas, the odds are in our favor.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at blogs.tampabay.com/dining.

. IF YOU GO

Great dining deals

While the economy struggles to right itself, there are dining deals to be had at some of the top Las Vegas restaurants. Among them:

Joel Robuchon's L'Atelier at MGM Grand

3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S; (702) 891-7358;

joel-robuchon.com

Offering a three-course menu called "L'Unique" for $39, all served bento-box style until 6:45 p.m. There's also a build-your-own-menu option from $89 to $195 (with which you get complimentary limo service).

Michael Mina Nob Hill Tavern at MGM Grand

3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S; (702) 693-7223; www.michaelmina.net

A three-course menu for $45.

Bradley Ogden at Caesars Palace

3570 Las Vegas Blvd. S; toll-free 1-877-346-4642

$29 prix-fixe menu. Also at Caesars Palace, one of the most expensive restaurants, Restaurant Guy Savoy, offers a Bubbles and Bites menu — the champagnes will run you upwards of $65 a glass, but the accompanying nibbles are 3 for $30. Also at Caesars Palace, Payard Patisserie & Bistro has one of the best lunch deals in town for $19.95.

Kokomos at the Mirage

3400 Las Vegas Blvd. S; toll-free 1-866-339-4566

$29 three-course prix-fixe menu, with 50 percent off wine Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. No big-name chef, but a lush tropical setting by famed designer Adam Tihany. Also at the Mirage, at Japonais there's a "Lounge Dinner" for two for $45 from 5 to 8 p.m.

China Grill at Mandalay Bay

3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S; (702) 632-7404

$39 pre-theater menu, half-price select cocktails and sushi in the bar 5 to 7 p.m., with the New York City flagship's neo-Asian glamor

B&B Ristorante at the Venetian

3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S; (702) 266-9977

This Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich collaboration is offering a pre-theater prix-fixe menu for $49.

Ceres Restaurant at JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa

221 N Rampart Blvd.; (702) 869-7381

Located off the Strip, it has a "Dine in 2009 for $20.09" three-course prix-fixe menu.

Wine deals

The Mirage

Its restaurants offer 50 percent off bottles on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as part of the casino's 20th anniversary celebration.

Nove at the Palms

4321 W Flamingo Road; (702) 942-7777

On Monday nights wines are 50 percent off.

Double Helix Wine Bar + Boutique

The Shoppes at the Palazzo Resort, 3327 Las Vegas Blvd. S; (702) 735-9463

This wine shop offers weekly wine tastings for $5 per person every Friday.

Vintner Grill

10100 W Charleston Blvd.; (702) 214-5590

Located off the strip in Summerlin, it has a "50 Wines Under $50" program in addition to offering Las Vegas' largest cheese selection and a half-price/half-portion lunch option.

Deals make fine dining affordable in Las Vegas 11/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 14, 2009 3:30am]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...