Wednesday, September 08, 2010

My Vegas Favorites

I'm not much of a Vegas person, truth be told, but I do have a few places I like to go when I'm in town, and I thought it might be fun to share them...
Bellagio fountain show in Vegas

Of course, you can't miss the Bellagio fountain show.... am I right?
Drinks in the bar at Encore
As for hotels... we've stayed in quite a few of them over the years, and by far my three favorites are the Wynn/Encore (pictured above) - which has pretty much spoiled me for anyplace else; the Bellagio - which is almost as nice and right in the center of the action; and the Hard Rock - which is off the strip and a little smaller, but a lot of fun during the week when they offer room rates as low as $59. a night and there are no crowds to speak of. Last week we stayed at the MGM and the Palazzo, both of which are a little too big and crowded for my taste. The people watching - especially at the Palazzo - was primo though. I couldn't help but wonder why so many people make fun of the Kardashians and Jersey Shore when 95% of the population there appeared to be emulating them. I even saw a few of those bi-level Pauly D hair dos. (Confession here - I actually kinda like Pauly D.)
Lotus of Siam - Las Vegas

The dining options in Vegas have definitely improved since the early days of the celebrity chef wave - but there are still plenty of pitfalls to be avoided. We like going off the strip to Lotus of Siam, which may not be the best or most authentic Thai anywhere but it's good enough for us, and a refreshing change from the big hotels and chains on the strip
Luv It Frozen Custard in Las Vegas

Also off the strip, Luv It Frozen Custard is a worthwhile little detour for some of the creamiest, tastiest, soft custard ice cream imaginable. This makes a great add-on to a trip to the Las Vegas Neon Museum - where you can look at, photograph and hear about the history of some of Las Vegas' famous neon signs. (See below...)
L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Vegas

But by far our favorite dining experience in Vegas, heck - maybe anywhere - is on the strip at the Joel Robuchon L'Atelier at the MGM. We've had two tasting menu meals at the bar here - both fabulous. We like the bar dining, which allows you to see the action in the kitchen and makes for a slightly more casual and comfortable experience. The service is also very good - it was noticeably better on our first visit, but I think our second may have been a fluke. The prices are in line with the cuisine but not agonizingly high, and the food is precise and satisfying, but properly portioned and paced so as not to be overwhelming.
Otto in Las Vegas - in the St. Mark's Square at the Palazzo

We also discovered a new favorite on this most recent trip - Otto at the Palazzo in their "St. Mark's Square." We sat at the bar and enjoyed a feast of antipasti, pasta and gelato - accompanied by some interesting Italian wines. I'll write more later. :)
Espressamente Gelato Bar at the Palazzo

One of the happiest developments in Vegas over the past few years has been the proliferation of gelato bars. Bellagio, the Wynn, Venetian and Palazzo all have them and I am sure there are others. I favor the Espressamente Gelato Bar at the Venetian - the selection is dazzling and the espresso is pretty decent too. (Though not as good as the perfect one I had at Otto.)
Las Vegas Neon Museum Sign Boneyard

If you can tear yourself away from gambling and lounging by the pool for a couple of hours, you really must check out the Neon Sign Museum. Make a reservation for a tour at least a day in advance, you won't be sorry. As for entertainment - Mystere, the Cirque du Soleil show at the Treasure Island, is the original and still the best. I also like the Fontana Lounge at the Bellagio - which offers live entertainment in the middle of the afternoon, and Cleopatra's Barge at Caesars Palace, which has been there since I was a kid and still rocks the lounge acts in the evenings. The Forum Shops at Caesars (especially the newer area) is my favorite mall in town - be sure to check out the Vosges chocolate shop. The Wynn and Bellagio also have all the classic luxury powerhouses - fun for window shopping at least, and the Crystals mall at City Center does too. I have to admit I'm a sucker for those Hermes stores, but I can't help but wonder how many Vegas actually needs... (there are 3 now.)

So there you have it - the places that make Las Vegas bearable - even enjoyable - for me. How about you? Do you have any favorite haunts in the City of Sin? Any great stories? Or do you believe what happens in Vegas...


  1. you know me, with you on the Joel Robuchon

  2. That looks spectacular! That gelato ... yum! Vegas truly is a foodie paradise.

  3. Thanks for this comprehensive guide to how to tolerate Vegas. I have to go to meet European friends and was dreading it. This helps!

  4. Nothing beats a late night/early morning cocktail and a burger at the Pepper Mill a 3AM vegas tradition for me. Medium Rare and Jack and Coke baby!

  5. Sam - we should meet there sometime! After we go to the French Laundry :)

    Shyla - it is, if you know where to go - for sure. There was a great article in the New Yorker recently about Brett Ottolenghi and Artisanal Foods - who supplies all of the high end restaurants with their fancy ingredients - it's a fun read if you have a subscription:

    Bev - I hope it helps! ;)

    Matt - I do like the Peppermill - it is a cool scene, but I haven't actually been to the one in Vegas. There was one in Concord, in the East Bay where I used to live a million years ago.

  6. I haven't been to Otto yet! Will have to try it out. But next time you must visit me.

  7. Hi AQF, I just discovered your blog and enjoy the reading. My favorite Vegas things include the following:
    Divey Ellis Island Casino off the Strip on Koval Lane has a microbrewery (and a Metro Pizza) where they brew their own root beer - yum! Alcoholic version beer is good too. The Atomic Testing Museum on Flamingo is, pun very much intended, the bomb! Affiliated with the Smithsonian, the museum is really fun and really well done. Stripburger at the Fashion Show Mall has great bar food, buckets of beer and only outdoor seating (if you're brave enough). If you want to smuggle gourmet goodies home in your suit case, visit Village Meat and Wine on Eastern. I bought Muscovy duck here for a holiday feast. Don't know how sustainable they are, but they have most every gourmet goodie I ever dream of. Check out my travel/food blog, California Junket, and keep up the good work!

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