If you read the travel and business news, you might have heard that City Center opened this month in Las Vegas. So far the reports have been long on recounting the impressive list of hotels, restaurants, shows and shops, and short on any commentary about how good it all is. Having rushed to Vegas for recent openings, including Palazzo at the Venetian and the Wynn, I have learned that you don’t get much out of quick, early impressions. Better to let it settle in for a few weeks, and only then see what’s up.
Even for Las Vegas, this is a formidable enterprise. Three hotels are open—the 4,004-room Aria, the 1,495-suite midpriced Vdara (a non-smoking hotel with no casino either) and the 392-room Mandarin Oriental (also sans casino). A fourth, the 400-room boutique-style Harmon, is scheduled to open in late 2010. Aria alone has 16 restaurants.
Several chefs are new to Las Vegas. Pierre Gagnaire follows in the footsteps of fellow French Michelin three-star chefs Alain Ducasse, Joël Robuchon and Guy Savoy with Twist, a lavish restaurant on the 23rd floor of the Mandarin Oriental. Masa Takayama, whose Masa and Bar Masa regularly top the luxury lists in New York, installed a Bar Masa at the Aria, and Shaboo, a 54-seat omakase-style experience patterned after Masa. Also at Aria, Sage serves new American cuisine from Shawn McClain, whose Spring and Green Zebra restaurants are highly regarded in Chicago.
Several successful Vegas veterans are in the mix too. At Aria, Michael Mina’s American Fish focuses on rustic styles of seafood, Jean Georges Steakhouse incorporates Vongerichten’s Asian touches, Sirio Ristorante does modern Italian cuisine from the Maccioni family and Julian Serrano (chef of Picasso at the Bellagio in Las Vegas) goes casual with an eponymous tapas bar. Wolfgang Puck and Todd English have casual outposts in Crystals, the retail complex.
You can bet that most of the big names will be hovering about their new enterprises through the busy holidays. What will count, in my book, is what happens after they go home and leave their new babies to their hand-picked chefs and managers.
I am most intrigued by Masa. Sitting at his sushi bar and having Takayama himself prepare a parade of exquisite, tiny courses is one of the great culinary experiences anywhere. What will happen when he has to divide his time between Masa in New York and Shaboo in Las Vegas? I have a certain level of confidence that the answer will be positive because, when Takayama left Ginza Sushi-Ko in Beverly Hills to move to New York, his assistant reopened it as Urasawa, and it’s still fabulous.
The name chef does not guarantee how good a restaurant experience will be. What counts is the ability of the staff to uphold the standards and infuse the place with their own enthusiasm. And that will be apparent after some time passes.
The other big question for Las Vegas is what impact all these glossy new places in City Center will have on the existing dining scene. The recession has strained some of the existing leaders. Some are only open on weekends now. Will some of them succumb in 2010, or will the presence of City Center energize the town?
Food Wine Consulting — San Francisco, CA — December 21, 2009 7:24pm ET
David Tietz — Columbus, OH — December 22, 2009 12:24am ET
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