When you think of eating out in the sordid smorgasbord of delights that is Las Vegas, there’s a good chance that what comes to mind is the infamous all-you-can-eat buffet, with its daunting foodscapes illuminated in sickly yellow, or the dubious breastaurants where a costumed nurse will spank you with a paddle if you don’t finish something called a “Bypass Burger.” This is dining’s version of the “what happens in Vegas” maxim; the dietary and culinary equivalent of getting married by an Elvis impersonating celebrant or taking in a Chippendales show.
In recent years celebrity chefs and Michelin starpower have converged to transform the Strip into a far less shameful dining destination. Now, the discerning diner can enjoy a range of diverse and international foods, replete with outstanding service in surroundings that are actually (cross our hearts) classy. Eating in Sin City suddenly doesn’t have to feel so sinful.
The views from the 64th floor of the Delano hotel are not for the faint of heart. Everyone else is advised to grab a window seat at Delano’s top-floor restaurant Rivea (pictured at top), all the better to appreciate the 180-degree views of the city below, at a height that renders even the mighty Luxor rather measly. With an interior design inspired by Venetian yachts and maritime motifs, including a “Wave Wall” that’s something out of a mermaid’s undersea grotto, Rivea turns out to be a fantastical meeting of sky and sea.
Fortunately, Rivea’s simple, fresh plates—evoking the flavors and spirit of the food markets of Provence and Italy—turn out to be as aesthetically attractive as anything else in or outside the room. Resist the temptation to fill up on breadsticks so you can properly enjoy the exquisitely saucy seasonal mushroom risotto, the paccheri pasta with ox cheek and marinated sea bream, or sage/parmesan cheese potato gnocchi. Actually, the great thing about small plates is that you can try all of the above sans guilt. That said, it’s worth casting an eye over the entree section, with its poetical promise of John Dory “baked like on the Riviera.”
Returning to earth in the glass elevator after your lemon shortbread, limoncello sorbet and espresso in a pleasingly purple coffee cup, you’ll think you’ve just been to heaven and back.
It really doesn’t get more iconic than the Bellagio Fountains—and there’s simply no better place to view the fountains than from acclaimed chef Julian Serrano’s third Vegas venture, his Milanese-inspired restaurant Lago. During peak times, Lago diners are treated to the Bellagio’s splendid displays of music and water every quarter-hour, either through the floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows of the dining room or from the open-air patio.
The lightness and grace of the aquatic choreography is represented in the Lago menu, whose small elegant dishes tend to disappear in four or five satisfying mouthfuls. The shredded salmon salad and eggplant parmesan Benedict, part of a three-course Sunday brunch, turn out to be perfectly palatable options after an indulgent weekend. And, if you get a little weepy during the Fountain performance of “Your Song,” feel free to blame it on the eye-wateringly good spinach-ricotta stuffed chicken breast. Just be sure to leave room for the Nutella crespelle and the other desserts invitingly laid out on Lago’s marble mixology counter, from which you’re free to pick and choose.
New York’s Carbone has been described as one of the finest Italian-American restaurants in the world. No pressure, then, translating that experience to Las Vegas. The good news is that Carbone’s Las Vegas outpost is, if anything, an improvement on the New York experience, offering diners more privacy for those salacious conversations the city tends to inspire.
Carbone evokes nostalgia for the classic red sauce Italian eateries from the 1950s and 1960s in every possible sense. When stepping into its gorgeous velvet-lined Red Room (pictured above) of leather banquettes under a Murano glass chandelier, you’ll hear the welcoming harmonies of the Ronettes. You’ll be waited on by a suave tuxedoed “Captain,” bringing an uncommon level of showmanship and all-round hospitality to your dining experience, up to and including the making of your Caesar salad right at your table. And, true to the inspiration, there’s no skimping on portion size: the justly celebrated veal parmesan, for example, is hand-pounded out of a sizable veal chop.
4. Bardot Brasserie
If getting an eyeful of the Strip’s Eiffel Tower replica puts you in the mood for French fare, look no further than Bardot Brasserie where the feeling is distinctly Parisian right from the outset, when a baguette arrives, hot and satisfying, in a paper bag.
The design by Bishop Pass features sidewalk cafe-style dining, while those in the dining room get to lounge in leather booths surrounded by Parisian columns. At the bar, a maze of brass piping above brings the Pompidou to mind.
If all this isn’t enough to transport you to the City of Light, chef Michael Mina’s menu will do the trick. The delectable onion soup gratinee with Perigord truffle and braised oxtail, Burgundian escargot wrapped in puff pastry shells, and steak frites (featuring the most moreish beef fat fries this side of the Seine) are well worth your time. Dip into the extensive cocktail menu—or the selection of wine hailing from Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Rhône, Alsace and the Loire—and, before long, you’ll be tempted to read the passage from A Moveable Feast that adorns one of the Brasserie’s walls.
5. Julian Serrano
After 15 years of success with his two-star Michelin restaurant Picasso, Julian Serrano’s named his subsequent Spanish cuisine-inspired venture for another audacious and esteemed artist: himself. And, as is the case with Picasso’s most dazzling and important canvasses, there’s as much tradition as innovation going on in the Julian Serrano kitchen.
As well as a bounty of pork, poultry, beef and lamb, Julian Serrano provides vegan and vegetarian tapas (look out for the sautéed baby spinach and stuffed piquilo peppers), egg tapas (huevos estrellados being a perfect potato, pork chorizo, and egg combo), bread tapas, and cold and hot seafood tapas (get your claws on the crab black rice with squid ink).
Sharing is caring; there couldn’t be a clearer invitation than that epic menu to descend on Julian Serrano with your fellow foodies for a communal feast, where the conspicuously heavy seating sends a clear message: you’re not going anywhere, nor should you want or need to. This is Las Vegas, after all.
Darryn King is an arts writer and critic based in New York.