Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The 6 Best Restaurants I Ate in Las Vegas

Reflecting back on my nine days dining out in Las Vegas, there were a few dishes and restaurants that really stood out above the rest, regardless of price point. Below is a recap for anyone who is looking to eat well in Las Vegas, complete with Dallas restaurant comparisons.

In order of what I'd recommend:

1. Nobhill Tavern by Chef Michael Mina, inside MGM Grand
Dallas restaurant equivalent in price, ambiance, service, and creative cuisine: Stephan Pyles
Dallas restaurant equivalent for creative, fresh cocktails: Bolsa

This is the only restaurant I ate at in Vegas where EVERYTHING TASTED AMAZING and the service was perfection, so I'm going to detail what I ate here more than I will the other restaurants.

A fellow Dallas foodie in Vegas told me this restaurant has the best cocktails in Vegas, and that the $14 Nobhill Cablecar was their best one. I was blown away by the creativity and fresh flavors…

My Dallas foodie friend is also a wino, and he found a bottle of $95 Pinot Noir that he hadn't been able to find in Dallas. It turned out to be one of the two best bottles of wine I've ever tasted. It was smooth, balanced, earthy, and delightfully missing that acidic tinge that Pinot Noir typically carries.

So they have fantastic cocktails and wine, but the food was just as great. Usually I don't eat raw oysters at all, but I could tell that this was a restaurant where one should take the plunge. These $18 half dozen oysters were salty, not fishy, not slimy, and served with an optional red wine vinegar—they make you understand why some people rave about raw oysters. Entrees were $28-45. We split two. The lamb was so tender that when the waiter placed the plate on the table, the whole huge chunk wobbled like Jello. I've never seen a piece of meat do that.

2. Mon Ami Gabi, inside The Parisian
Dallas restaurant equivalent in price, people-watching patio, and the ability to make a great breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner: Bread Winners

This became my favorite all-around restaurant in Vegas, so I ate here several times. You simply cannot beat their outdoor patio view; you can see and hear the Bellagio fountain show and watch all the crazy people walk by on the Strip, slightly below. Also, the patio is heated in the winter and misted in the summer. I love that they serve Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch and Dinner in casual French cuisine and that it doesn't cost more than I'm used to spending in uptown Dallas ($12-25 entrees). I thought their crusty French bread and salted butter was better than Thomas Keller's Bouchon (see below), plus it was served with a carrot slaw, something I've never heard of. And they have several of the best desserts I've tasted in Vegas.

3. Bouchon by Chef Thomas Keller, inside The Venetian tower
Dallas restaurant equivalent in French cuisine: The Grape Restaurant

Ah, Thomas Keller, possibly the most renown chef in the world. You may have heard of his more famous restaurant, The French Laundry, which wins Michelin stars and NY Times accolades and Anthony Bourdain's "best restaurant in the world, period." Keller also owns Bouchon, so I had the highest possible expectations for every aspect of this dining experience. I was very happy the entrees ranged $18-45, instead of $60+. I was excited to see the table set exactly how they are in Paris—with a little container and spoon of dijon mustard and no salt or pepper shakers. However, whereas everything at Nobhill was mind-blowingly delicious, I could only say that here about the complimentary olives and $10 dark chocolate mousse. Here is the sequence of my meal at Bouchon:


4. Nine Fine Irishmen, inside New York-New York
Dallas restaurant equivalent in Irish ambiance: Trinity Hall

I really wasn't looking to spend one of my precious Vegas dinners on Irish food, but this was the closest restaurant to MGM Grand with great Yelp reviews and a $15-25 entree range. I was so glad I listened to Yelp! The interior is a two-story maze of wooden rooms decorated like an old Irish home, and at night they have a live band. All of the food was really good, especially for the price: 1) best beer cheese dip I've ever had, 2) fish and chips were as good or better than Sherlock's, The Londoner or Trinity Hall in Dallas, 3) my dining buddy said this ribeye was much tastier and bigger than the $50 ribeye he had at a fancy restaurant the night before. If you're on budget and you want a pretty delicious, large meal from start to finish, this should be your go-to restaurant.

5. Payard Bistro by French Pastry Chef Fran├žois Payard, inside Caesar's Palace near the convention center entrance
Dallas restaurant equivalent: none, only place remotely similar is the gelato at Paciugo

I remembered this cafe from a previous Vegas trip as a place where I could get a $9 crepe (breakfast) all day long. I rediscovered it this time through Yelp reviews saying Payard has the best collection of desserts in Vegas, and I agree! This was the first time in the U.S. where I saw desserts that looked and tasted like the patisseries I saw in Paris (The Parisian's Sugar Factory desserts looked the same, but tasted so bad I threw mine out). Payard also makes gelato and chocolate truffles. My only complaint is the buckwheat crepe batter tasted a bit too much like the flour. Also, they get kudos for being the only restaurant in Vegas that noticed I posted about them @francoispayard.

6. Scarpetta by Chef Scott Conant, inside The Cosmopolitan
Dallas restaurant equivalent for a fantastic evening view: Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck

Get a table by the window and you'll get a long look straight down the Strip with the Bellagio fountains dancing in the foreground every 15 minutes after 8pm. Only problem is you can't hear the fountain music. Their spread of free breads was amazing, but the service was almost nonexistent and the supposedly awesome spaghetti was still just spaghetti, not worth $24 for a medium-sized pile.

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