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Take a gamble on Las Vegas restaurants and chefs — I do!

July 13, 2011 - Carla Tracy

Some of us go to Las Vegas to gamble. Others, like myself and Executive Chef Roger Stettler of the Four Seasons Resort Maui in Wailea, travel there to check out new dining trends and check out all of the hot, new exciting restaurants.

“I think Vegas is a great food city,” says Stettler, who went there recently with Four Seasons Director of Food and Beverage, Ben Shank. “All of the big name chefs are there. It’s insightful. It’s always good to see new things. I’ve learned a lot. Some of our new menu items are starting to reflect ideas that we got from there.”

Four Seasons Resort Maui’s assistant Pastry Chef Heather Campbell is one of Stettler’s employees who hangs on every word.

“Roger and Ben really have their fingers on the pulse of the latest trends,” says Campbell. “They do a follow up when they come back with all of the chefs and the sous chefs.”

Campbell goes on to say that, “they’re totally lit up and inspired from the Vegas trips. When they go there, they’re on a mission. This year, they say trends are more farm to table, rustic versus molecular cuisine, that started at El Bulli in Spain.”

“Of course, we try to recreate it all here. They point me to new directions that I never would have gone. It’s pushed me to whole new levels.”

Marco Defanis, owner of the hugely popular Marco’s Grill & Deli in Kahului, also loves Las Vegas and its restaurants.

“I’m not a gambler,” says Marco. “So all I do when I travel there is eat and go to shows. I get so many ideas from the top restaurants on the Strip. They really do have the best chefs in the world in Las Vegas.”

“I get to Vegas about twice a year to check out what’s new and different,” says Jacques Perwin, general manager of Spago in Wailea. “Maui has a wonderful and emerging culinary scene. In order to have an edge and keep up, or even surpass others, I need to keep focused. Traveling to a city such as Las Vegas allows me to see, and more importantly, learn, the latest in mixology, glassware, service and style.”

That being said, here are some of this blog writer’s favorite picks from a recent visit:

On our last visit to the Country Club, a New American Steakhouse at the Wynn Resort, we felt as if we were transported into the heart of New Orleans. The zydeco-style jazz band featured a lively sax player in a purple zoot suit and orange shirt. Another member played the washboard — what fun! Their version of the theme song from the hit HBO TV series, “Treme,” got diners to their feet. You may savor the experience inside or out and both venues dish up views of a massive man-made waterfalls that is like the Niagra of the desert.

These days, the Country Club is wowing diners with its six-course chef’s taste of New Orleans from 5:30 to 10 p.m. nightly, Move over, Emeril! The chefs at the Wynn have put the soul of that great food city at our fingertips.

Dive into shrimp remoulade; gumbo with house-smoked Andouille sausage, shrimp and crawfish; jumbo lump crab cake with truffles and ravigote sauce; Louisiana pecan-crusted fish with petit greens salad, corn cream and sauce Meuniere; Creole-spiced petit filet mignon with Andouille smashed potato salad, and tobacco onions and housemade Worcestershire sauce. The piece de resistance is French Quarter beignets with Cafe Au Lait sauce. Kaimuki native Cyrus Ong will make you feel right at home as your server. Cost of the Country Club’s remarkable six-course feast is $95. Visit Wynn Las Vegas Restaurant Website.

Estiatorio Milos is a mouthful of a name, and it offers the most amazing and satisfying three-course lunch experience for just $20.11. It runs daily, and you’ll feel as if you're in the Greek Isles with fresh-caught fish and farm-raised vegetables at peasant prices.

Located in The Cosmopolitan, the brilliant new hotel, casino and spa near the Bellagio on the Strip, Estiatorio Milos is run by acclaimed chef and restaurateur Costa Spilladis, who runs two other Milos restaurants in New York City and Toronto. Believe me, you can throw down some money here, it’s just that he wants to give everyone a deal at lunch. Our waiter told us he offers the same deal at his other restaurants, too.

And, what a deal it is! For over thirty years, Chef Spilladis has cultivated relationships with fishermen in and around the Greek Isles to provide his restaurants with the highest quality catch. In Las Vegas, his restaurant menus list the provenance of each fish – from Greek red mullet to Agadir anchovies, Tunisian octopus to Mediterranean langoustines. For dessert, Spiliadis drizzles Kythira thyme honey over thick, fresh goat’s milk yogurt, and serves it in a martini glass, impressing even the world’s most jaded diners.

“Touted as pioneering North America’s Hellenic food scene by introducing high-end food from the islands of Greece, Estiatorio Milos has a longstanding reputation for serving the freshest, most pristine imported Mediterranean seafood daily.” says Amy Rossetti, director of public relations for the hotel.

Between bites during our fabulous lunch, we kept saying that it couldn’t just cost $20.11! If you like tako, then you’ll adore his phenomenal onion-braised and then charcoal-grilled octopus served with fava beans. The lunch deal also included whole grilled fish; Greek meze plate; Hortopita of housemade phyllo stuffed with wild greens and aged feta and more. There are multiple choices, so my friend and I each ordered different items for a total of six dishes that were all big enough to share. Greek cuisine doesn’t get any better than this. Go there. Don’t wait! To reserve a table for parties of 12 or less, call toll free: (877) 893-2003 or visit The Cosmopolitan’s Website.

Another restaurant at The Cosmopolitan that’s over the top in taste, service and ambience is Jaleo. The night we dined there, the manager proudly walked the dining room, bragging that the man inspiring his kitchen, Jose Andrés, was just named the Most Outstanding Chef in America that day by the James Beard Awards Foundation, the Oscars of the food industry.

Andrés is host and executive producer of the PBS television series “Made in Spain,” a culinary journey of his homeland. He has authored several cookbooks, including the companion to the PBS show. This Spaniard was trained in Michelin-starred restaurants, including elBulli with world-renowned Master Chef and friend Ferran Adria.

His tapas, or small plates, simply explode with taste. In fact, his first Jaleo was a perennial favorite in Washington, D.C., and one of the country's first successful tapas restaurants, setting the standard for Spanish cuisine in the U.S. for almost two decades.

In Vegas, he brings diners the excitement of an exhibition kitchen, the first wood-burning paella oven in the US, vibrant colors and upbeat music. Plus, most of the tapas are reasonably priced. You can still run up a substantial bill, because you’ll want to sample everything parading past your table to other diners. And it will be worth every last bite.

“My team and I are pleased to be working with The Cosmopolitan’s CEO John Unwin and the talented collection of restaurant partners to bring unique culinary experiences to Las Vegas,” says Andrés, who also runs China Poblano at the hotel as part of his ThinkFoodGroup.

When seated, you may order cava, sangria, cuba libre, or Estrella Damm Barcelona Lager from Spain. The selection of Spanish wines by the glass is also amazing, and will pair perfectly with, say, seared scallops with sauce Romesco; and boiled octopus with pee-wee potatoes, pimentos and olive oil. Then you’ll want to try the jamon Serrano, an incredibly aromatic ham along with fresh Spanish anchovies, cheeses such as Manchego and la Serena, and stuffed olives. You’ll find small soups, salads, croquettes and lots of big plates, too. You may eat, drink and spend as little or as much as you like. You will definitely like. But do save room for the olive oil ice cream with fresh grapefruit. It’s da bomb.

To reserve a table at Jaleo for parties of 12 or less, call toll free (877) 893-2003; or visit the Cosmopolitan Website.

After the outstanding meal at Jaleo, I set my sights on another Spanish tapas restaurant. This time, we headed to Julian Serrano at the new Aria Hotel & Casino for lunch. A native of Madrid, Serrano is a two-time James Beard Award winner. He also opened Masa’s in San Francisco back in 1983 and took it to new levels with French techniques. Some of you may have even tried his food at Picasso’s at the Bellagio, a two-star Michelin restaurant.

“Now at his newest venue in the dazzling CityCenter, Serrano satisfies a long-held ambition to share the secrets of his own Spanish cuisine,” says his manager. “Featured on the restaurant's multiple a la carte menus is an ensemble of Serrano's newest signature creations including traditional and innovative renditions of tapas, paellas, seafood and more.”

Serrano’s offers an early evening menu for $39; a signature tasting menu for $59 and both may be upgraded with wine pairings. Since we just dined there at lunch, we went for the tapas and the paella. Our waiter suggested the Valenciana paella with chicken, rabbit, Spanish chorizo, vegetables and al dente saffron rice. It was magnificent.

My friend was “ono” for the fresh anchovies and I reluctantly agreed. They were white anchovy fillets with piqillo peppers, croutons and parsley oil and all I can say is, I’m glad I caved in and tried them. Yum! We also savored Pata Negra ham from the charcuterie, known as the “most delicious in the world.” it was — in a sauce of garlic tomato.

All of the tapas plates, of course, are small, so we worked our way through vegetarian options such as marinated olives, and sauteed baby spinach with pine nuts, raisins, apples and shallots. The white ceviche, the octopus with potatoes and Spanish paprika, and cheeses made me dream of going back to the castle on the Bay of Baiona below Valencia from a previous vacation.

Reservations are strongly recommended by calling 1-(877)-230-2742.

When it first opened, the Las Vegas Review Journal called LAVO the, “Best new patio experience on the Strip.” People Magazine said it was, "Vegas' New Hotspot."

With a couple of years under its belt, LAVO Italian Restaurant is still a huge draw for those who live in Sin City. It was designed by the creators of TAO Asian Bistro, TAO Nightclub & TAO Beach. Located at the Palazzo, LAVO remains Las Vegas' celebrity haunt that has already hosted a long list of star-studded evenings.Do make a reservation or you'll never get in.

"LAVO's terrace (available for dinner, cocktails and private events) overlooks The Strip, affording one of the best views in town. But with over 20,000-square feet of space, LAVO offers a multitude of indulgent entertainment experiences,” says publicist Maggie Feldman.

“Guests can start or end the night with cocktails in one of the sexiest lounges in town, or enjoy incredible Italian cuisine in one of the warmest fun filled dining rooms around. Above the restaurant, the award winning LAVO Nightclub boasts one of the most intimate, yet energetic, dance floors in Las Vegas surrounded by lush table seating and an expansive bar,” continues Feldman.

"With the restaurant, lounge and terrace open 7 nights a week, the club open 5 nights and some of the latest hours in Vegas, LAVO has quickly become a "must-go" destination for those who love great food, music, dancing and a high quality nightlife experience."

We went there one night after seeing the Jersey Boys. The Meatball we ordered was bigger than a baseball and made from A-5 Kobe beef. One variation included salad and garlic crostini for $21. We thought we just might call it a meal. But no. A bottle of Brunello di Monticello, a fabulous red wine from Tuscany, was the perfect pairing, and everything looked so good coming out of the kitchen, we opted for more.

The menu features a raw bar with all manner of fresh seafood, salads such as heirloom tomato and bufalo mozzarella in fig balsamic, soups such as vegetable minestrone with pesto crouton, brick-oven pizzas, pastas of chicken and mushroom ravioli; and savory sides such as broccoli rabe, creamed spinach and polenta fries. It’s a “see and be seen” kind of place. Lots of fun and remarkable Italian food. Perfect after the “Jersey Boys,” just a short walk across the Palazzo’s casino. Call LAVO at (702) 791-1800; or visit Lavo’s Website.

Last, and certainly not least, is my all-time favorite restaurant in Las Vegas, the Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare at the Wynn. Chef Paul Bartolotta celebrates the traditions of Italian coastal cuisine at his namesake establishment, with unbelievably fresh seafood and shellfish flown in daily from Mediterranean waters. He will also dazzle you with housemade pastas and classic Italian specialties. Dine indoors or outside in private cabanas surrounding a shimmering lagoon with glowing orbs in the middle. The backdrop is a man-made mountain peppered with massive fir trees. You’ll never know you are dining on the Strip.

According to the press release, Chef Bartolotta has catapulted his restaurant to multiple AAA Four Diamond Awards in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. He also won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef, in the American Southwest in 2009.

“So passionately and uncompromisingly Italian, Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare is a place I’d eat in every day,” – says Carolyn Bates of Gourmet magazine. The good news is, it’s open every evening from 5:30 to 10 p.m. and you will be bowled over by the service, the presentation and the cuisine. Some say Italian food doesn’t even taste this good in Italy.

Our waiter, Luciano Lacala, who’s from Italy, of course, wheeled by an iced down cart full of the freshest fish and seafood from the Mediterranean. Dine there and you’ll enjoy pesce or fish you’ve perhaps never even seen or heard of before. Occhinoa is big-eyed red sea bream, Sogliola is northern Adriatic sole; Dentice Imperiale is snapper. The lobsters are still alive and crawling around. They’re priced at $20 for 100 grams or three ounces.

Pasta lovers will find hand-rolled thick spaghetti with Tuscan meat sauce; potato gnocchi; handmade ribbon pasta or tagliatelle with imported porcini mushrooms; and lasagnette or “rags” of pasta with lobster, shrimp, crab, white wine and tomato. As the perfect ending to the highlight of my whole trip, we indulged in olive oil ice cream and a rainbow of gelato as we sipped green tea Grappa from the old country. Then it was off to XS, the nightclub.

For Bartolotta reservations, call (888) 352-DINE (3463); or visit Wynn Las Vegas Website.

To view the pictures and the entire cutlines, click to enlarge.

Overall, I'd say that the Mediterranean versions of octopus or "tako" as we say in Hawaii, were out of this world everywhere from Bartolotta to Jaleo to Julian Serrano to Estiatorio Milos. Please, Maui chefs, braise tako and then char grill it and serve it with potatoes or any fun Mediterranean accompaniments. Then see how it flies out the door! Another highlight from Vegas was the olive-oil ice cream. Va bene! I think that also would be a huge hit on Maui menus.


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Bartolotta's seafood cart is wheeled to your table with the freshest fish from Italy flown in daily.