It’s taken a few years for Las Vegas to find its culinary footing. Fortunately, as an ever-evolving city, it’s graduated from being known for 99-cent shrimp cocktails and all you can eat buffets to a culinary destination with world-famous chefs and restaurants putting down stakes on the Strip. Now you can’t walk into a casino without getting hungry, no matter what you like to eat. Here are three ways that Las Vegas has transformed into its current posh dining landscape.
Las Vegas owes a debt of gratitude to Wolfgang Puck for bringing his brand of California cuisine to the desert in the early ’90s. After Spago’s success in Beverly Hills, Puck turned his sights on Las Vegas, which at the time had a few decent gourmet rooms and steak houses, but wasn’t focusing on feeding guests. Puck’s high quality lighter fare, including his famous Chinois chicken salad and smoked salmon pizza—two favorites that are still on the menu today—were a hit with hotel executives who turned the Forum Shops eatery into the place to power lunch.
Want to feel like you’re one of the local power set? Order one of those famous pizzas in the cafe during lunch, which offers faux patio seating in view of Forum Shops foot traffic; it’s some of the best indoor people watching in town. At dinnertime, sit in the two-story stark white and chrome dining room with a gorgeous, multi-colored striped painting by local artist Tim Bavington anchoring the wall. Spago executive chef Eric Klein offers an elegant, contemporary menu where you won’t have any problem finding something to your tastes, such as Colorado lamb chops or pan-roasted Alaskan halibut with seasonal accoutrements.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
There’s no denying that when the Food Network came into your life, you suddenly became more interested in food. Once chefs became celebrities, you suddenly had someone to talk you through what you were eating. It started with Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay in the late ’90s. After that came a French wave of chefs who were already Michelin-starred superstars in their home country, among which was chef Joël Robuchon.
When Robuchon arrived, he brought with him two concepts: the more relaxed, interactive L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon—where you can sit at the counter and watch as the chefs prepare your meal—and his namesake fine-dining restaurant at MGM Grand. If you want to have the full French fine-dining experience, this is where you should go.
Cross through the foyer over the glossy white-and-black tiled floor and let the intimate yet luxuriously appointed dining room welcome you. Plush purple banquettes give the room a regal feel, and the accent flowers and colors change with the season. Robuchon currently offers several different prix fixe tasting menus, but if you want to go big, you’re there for the dizzying 18-course degustation—a meal that you happily experience for a minimum of three hours. Savor your way through dishes like foie gras carpaccio, black truffle tarts, truffled langoustine ravioli, and spiny lobster with green curry jus—all prepared with the utmost in technical precision and emphasis on the right balance of flavors.
You can’t talk about all you can eat in Las Vegas without discussing the transformation of the buffet. When the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas opened in 2010, its collection of restaurants went outside the box of Las Vegas dining options, including its Wicked Spoon buffet. Modeled after food markets you’d find in Asia, the buffet became less of a feeding frenzy and more of a gourmet experience. If you’ve got friends who balk at the idea of the buffet, take them here, where the caliber of food might make you more inclined to wear a skirt or slacks rather than sweats (though stretchy material is still advised). Instead of spooning hours-old egg rolls out of big, metal pans, you pick up dishes that offer smaller, individually plated portions—which is way more appealing. Take a lap and get a lay of the land before you dig into international flavors such as well-spiced tandoori chicken, roasted pork belly, and savory beef empanadas. You can never have too much of a good thing.