The weekend of the Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit food festival, which just wrapped its ninth year, is always a good time to taste what’s new in Las Vegas. After bouncing around the festival and well beyond it, here are our picks for six sizzling spots you should consider visiting this weekend during Mayweather-Pacquiao madness (you’ll be there, right?) or any of the busy summer weekends coming up in Vegas.
High-end casinos in Vegas are known for offering an embarassment of culinary riches, and the Aria resort reminded us on Thursday that it can hang with anyone in town. That was the evening that ace chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Julian Serrano, Michael Mina, Shawn McClain, and Masa Takayama came together…and cooked at the Aria buffet. (Vongerichten’s prawns with chimichurri sauce and Mina’s charcuterie were highlights.) When the spectacular Carbone, an elevated Italian-American spot that’s one of the most acclaimed and fun restaurants in New York, opens at Aria later this year, the casino’s dining scene is going to get even more delicious. Until then, Aria’s restaurant of the moment is Mina’s new Bardot Brasserie, with its escargot and steak frites, a stunning bar for cocktails and pâté, and a brunch menu featuring Maine lobster Benedict served on croissants.
The new 75,000-square-foot mega-club at Caesars Palace is all kinds of experiences in one. This is where you can see many of the world’s prominent DJs, from Calvin Harris to Axwell, in the gargantuan main room, dance to open-format beats in the exclusive Heart of Omnia lounge (knowing somebody from L.A.’s H.Wood Group, which does parties in the Heart of Omnia, is one way to get in), or take the fun outdoors with cocktails on the Strip-facing terrace. Spend enough time here and you’ll notice the attention to detail, like the elaborate LED panels with interactive features and on-screen artwork to distract discerning visitors from the surplus of eye candy that surrounds them. Like Vegas’ other colossal clubs, Omnia (run by Neil Moffitt and Hakkasan Group) can be a zoo, but its separate areas and a seasoned crew including longtime nightlife buzz-builder Sal Wise mean an environment that really does have something for almost everyone who makes it past the long lines and into this party palace.
Downtown Summerlin, where you’ll find Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla’s new restaurant, is more than 20 minutes away from the Vegas Strip. But the transporting Andiron Steak & Sea feels like it could be a hot spot in New York City or Newport Beach. On Saturday, the restaurant—with its open kitchen led by chef Joseph Zanelli, its glass-encased liquor hovering atop its beautiful bar, its purposefully feminine interior design, and even its beachy bathrooms—was filled with a sexy, diverse crowd including local society fixtures and real estate moguls. The plump Maine scallops with English and sugar snap peas tasted like spring by the seaside. And when you get a chance to order a macaroni and cheese waffle as a side dish to your perfectly seasoned rib eye cap, you shouldn’t let that moment pass you by.
Head Downtown to the Ogden residential building (where Zappos boss and Downtown ringleader Tony Hsieh lives) for this new ramen and whiskey joint. Chef Ricardo Romo (whose credits include STK at the Cosmopolitan) isn’t playing around with his rich, soulful tonkotsu broth, which is cooked for 24 hours after he roasts a pig’s head, knuckles, feet, and slabs of skin. Romo is also starting to experiment with black garlic for ramen, and he’s even pondering a Mexican noodle bowl. Itsy Bitsy’s robata skewers, grilled atop white charcoal, and the generously stuffed potstickers and chicken karaage are all great izakaya food, ideal for pairing with a shot or a cocktail.
From Gordon Ramsay to Border Grill’s Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger (shucking 1,000 oysters), there were celebrity chefs all over Saturday’s Vegas Uncork’d Grand Tasting at Caesars Palace’s Garden of the Gods pool. So a surprising standout was Downtown Summerlin’s Ribs & Burgers, the first U.S. outpost of an Australian chain, which served juicy racks of lamb and pork ribs that had many guests going back for more.
Another hit at the Grand Tasting, Hexx is a restaurant and a candy store where chef Matthew Piekarski and chocolatier Carol Garcia make fresh bean-to-bar treats. You can visit the shop in front of the Paris Las Vegas resort for a complimentary tasting of chocolate created with beans from Peru, Tanzania, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Madagascar. That’s no doubt one of the city’s finest freebies. Or hit the adjacent 24-hour restaurant to sit on the patio right in the middle of the Vegas Strip and eat pizzas, pastas, roasted branzino, spicy jambalaya, or maybe even the Thai-style beef jerky special we tried, before getting a milkshake or a dark chocolate mille crepe to sate your sweet tooth.