VIDEO: Top Ten Food Experiences at Aria, City Center
While some might have enjoyed merely rubbing shoulders with Gail Simmons and the many Top Chef "Cheftestants," this past weekend's Food + Wine All-Star Weekend was a reminder of one important thing: Aria, City Center is one of the strongest destinations on the Las Vegas Strip for fine dining. Of all the restaurants represented at the Weekend, it wasn't easy putting them in "top ten" order... but decisions must be made! Staying at Aria or nearby? Then consider:
1. Sage: The only Western outlet of James Beard-awarded Chef Shawn McClain, Sage is “New American” by general reference, but utilizes enough French technique to be a close cousin of Guy Savoy and other very high-end refined dining experiences here. Signature dishes Foie Gras Crème Brulee and Crispy Sweetbreads are among many musts, and the food is complemented by a strong beverage program and gorgeous romantic/chic room design. New York or San Francisco would celebrate this restaurant, if they had it.
VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH SAGE CHEF SHAWN MCCLAIN
2. American Fish: Of all Chef Michael Mina’s justly praised restaurants, this might be most successful at celebrating ingredients over technique (which itself, takes considerable skill). Neither entirely American, nor all fish, American Fish is more a destination restaurant than its casual modern fish camp-inspired décor suggests. Roasted Branzino, turbot poached in Hawaiian sea water, butter poached and wood grilled beef are three of many strengths. Good cocktails, too.
3. Julian Serrano: The chef-owner share a name with some of the most celebrated ham in the world. That alone should end any doubt that this open, Spanish-designed lobby space presents some of the most well-executed modern tapas and paellas (order the rabbit) this side of the pond. Prime casual option.
4. Jean-Georges Steakhouse: Chef Vongerichten himself admits this is something of a “greatest hits” of his other restaurant concepts, which means it doesn’t necessarily inspire like his ABC Kitchen in New York, but if your friends insist on a steakhouse and you want something more adventuresome, this is a fantastic (non-)compromise. Strong cocktails and one of the best pairing somms in Vegas, Kim Wood.
VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH BAR MASA CHEF MASA TAKAYAMA
5. BarMasa: Ultra-modern design may seem odd to some, considering the high price point, but there’s no denying Masa—a dream reservation in NYC—offers some of the best sushi anywhere. As in, Any where. There’s also a high-end shabu-shabu concept for those who won big at the tables.
6. Sirio: The legendary restarauteur behind Le Cirque brings it back home with approachably authentic, no-corners-cut cucina Italiana. If I have to explain why you’d want that, there’s almost no reason for you to keep reading. Trust me. Trust them.
7. Union: Not interested in taking 2-3 hours out of your short weekend stay to eat? Too pumped up to sit still? Then creative casino-side Union is your call, the sister restaurant to nightclubs Haze and the Gold Room (tip well, then ask for help getting in). Great tomahawk steaks, heart-stopping ham hock mac ‘n’ cheese, and sexy waitstaff. Drink it in!
8. Lemongrass: Very well-executed Thai dishes. Not an awful lot that is out of the ordinary (though it’s almost certainly the best Thai on the Strip). The pork neck and fresh tofu are both recommended.
9. SportsBox: Sportsbook grills rarely inspire, but this one serves solid burgers (including a ghost pepper option that dares you to eat it!) and a prime rib sandwich that my good friend Zeke Quezada swears by. Your family will be satisfied with the food while you’re happily surrounded by flatscreens.
10. Jean-Phillippe Patisserie: The most “urbane” spot in all of City Center, JPP recalls a Midtown New York or European city gourmet store, squeezing in fresh gelatos, fine chocolates, fresh crepes, savory salads and sandwiches, fancy desserts, pastries and coffees. A very civilized quick bite, and relatively reasonable.
Hon mention: Blossom: Though I haven’t eaten here, this romantic recreation of a Peking-style palace does a nice job with traditional Mandarin dishes, I’m reliably told.
Also consider Social House, Todd English P.U.B. and Puck Pizzeria next door in Crystals as well as Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, Mozen and the tea lounge in Mandarin Oriental.