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Las Vegas – The New & The Surprising
If you are a Las Vegas lover, tell the truth. How many times have you spent as much as a week in town, rented a car so that you can experience “off The Strip Vegas,” and taken time to see the lesser known shows in the afternoon and late evening? Odds are that most visitors haven’t taken the opportunity to see what is off the better known so called beaten path. We admit to falling into that category, but when we enjoyed the remedy so much in the summer of 08, we decided to write about it and call this . . .
-[Surprise]: The Carmel Room at the J.W. Marriott in Summerlin was truly a find. Never mind that it is 20 minutes or so from the Strip. Its fine and innovative cuisine, professional and friendly service, and magnificently romantic room make it competitive with the best in town. Call ahead and reserve an enclosed private alcove, and spend the evening with someone special.
-[New]: Some people are critical of the trend among super chefs to seemingly open a restaurant in every hot town in the country. We have occasionally been among them. Nevertheless, Table 10, the new Emeril’s entry at the Palazzo, presents some of the best from this iconic personality. Chef Jean Paul Labadie has been with Emeril for many years and has adapted and expanded upon what he has learned – the mark of the great ones. We had the opportunity to chat at some length with JP (as he is called) since we chose to dine at the private chef’s table just off the kitchen. A concept that has been lost in many restaurants where the chef’s table might find you simply watching the kitchen and perhaps meeting the chef briefly, at Table 10 it was as it was meant to be. Discussions with the chef about the menu, about one’s likes and dislikes, and about wine pairings preceded service that often included the chef himself, and then a final evaluation. Now that is dining.
-[New and Surprising]: Also at the new Palazzo, Morels, a French steak house and bistro, surprised us by offering picture perfect salads, raw bar choices, and succulent steaks (both dry and wet aged, along with an explanation of each). The wine list is superb, though no surprise here, with new Beverage Director Nick Hetzel who we last saw at Redd in the Napa Valley. Be sure to ask Nick what to drink with what. He has that knack. Great pairings and a lovely room.
-[Surprise]: The real surprise here was the fact we had not previously been touted to the magnificent Fiamma at the MGM. Spectacularly beautiful and offering the kind of service you only see when it is overseen by eagle eyed floor managers, the quality of the food might not have mattered much. But, it was in fact so well prepared and creative that we have been having a difficult time remembering when we had an Italian meal that was so enjoyable (Bartoletta at the Wynn? Arturo’s in Boca Raton? L’Impero in New York?).
-[Surprise]: About 30 minutes south is the town of Henderson and its own hot area called “The District.” King’s Fish House, with about 10 other locations scattered throughout California and Arizona, is a real stand out. Specializing in the fish, shellfish, or crustaceans of the season (and setting out literature to teach you about each), this is an excellent place to stop if you are in the neighborhood (see the “Wine Shopping” section below). Choices are large and varied. Have grilled halibut, fried cat fish, fresh oysters, or sushi, and enjoy it all.
-[New and Surprising]: If you are a visitor and have for years been looking for a wine shop with excellent selections and fair prices on or near the Strip, you have mostly been out of luck. Well, the Palazzo comes to the rescue once again and offers an extraordinary shop, Double Helix, owned by M.D. and restaurateur Raymond Nisi. We can’t do better than its Website in accurately telling you what to expect:
The name Double Helix was carefully chosen to reflect the positive and proven benefits of wine on human health, and hence, structural DNA. The 2,100 square foot Palazzo location is the first venture for Double Helix, and includes a circular bar featuring more than 45 wines by the glass, available in either 2 oz. or 5 oz. servings. An adjacent boutique offers nearly 300 bottles of rare and hard-to-find labels available for sale.
To compliment its extensive wine offerings, Double Helix offers select menu offerings from celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and his acclaimed team at nearby Table 10. Double Helix also offers weekly wine tasting events at the boutique. Each event features a different vineyard whose vintage collections are available for sale at the boutique. These tastings take place every Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
-[Surprise]: We had read somewhere about the Valley Cheese & Wine store in Henderson, and made the 30 minute drive to check it out. The entire visit was full of surprises. Unlike almost any wine shop in the country today (especially those in the western states that are so influenced by California), Valley Cheese & Wine offer few American selections and concentrates on fine wines from Europe. Partner/owners Bob Howard and Kristin Sande not only know their wines, but have a marvelous gourmet meat and cheese selection, as well as creative and unusual gifts for the gourmand. If you can make some time to drop in, you will be glad you did.
-[Relatively new]: LOVE, at the Mirage, is a marriage of Beatles music with the genius of the folks from Cirque du Soleil. The reviews have been wonderful. We were disappointed. It is highly possible that Cirque du Soleil style shows have been over-produced in Las Vegas as there are only so many ways to swing in and out on a rope, climb something, or dive into water. This show was brilliantly directed, but too much of the music, in our opinion, was post Sgt. Pepper, and the acrobatics became tedious.
-[New, but only in Las Vegas]: Jersey Boys, at the Palazzo, is as perfect as it is in New York. As a matter of fact, two of the Nevada cast members may be even better. Put simply, do not miss it.
-[Surprise]: Ron Lucas, late of the MGM but now at the Excalibur, is as superb a ventriloquist and comedian as you would want to find. His characters, which you might recognize, are the dragon and Billy the Cowboy. This is 75 minutes of pure fun in the afternoon (check the new schedule) – a wonderful respite at a good price while you wait for dinner and your evening gaming session. [Hint: the bar is not yet open so we advise you to take some beer or a bottle of wine, along with glasses and a way to open them. This show deserves a drink.]
-[Surprise]: Gordie Brown, an impressionist working at Planet Hollywood, gets some nice reviews for his 10:00 show, though we think his comedy, which works more often than not, is better than his impressions, which are usually off the mark. We admit, however, that we give this opinion with a bit of hesitation since Mr. Brown is quite contemporary with many singing impressions, and we had not heard of a number of the people he imitated. However, there are enough of the classics to get a feel for his talent and get some Las Vegas standup comedy and entertainment.
-[Surprise]: To us there is not much better than authentic Irish music. Unfortunately, we seem to be a diminishing breed, as at most Irish pubs these days in both the U.S. and Ireland we get music almost bordering on the heavy metal. At JC Wooloughan’s, however, at the JW Marriott in Summerlin, a talented singer holds forth on Wednesdays to Saturdays and wows the crowd, which is more than ready to sing along with either the authentic Irish tunes, or the American ones that he can play in an Irish mode. The pub food is excellent here as well. Don’t miss the fish and chips, presently being served every Thursday night.
-[New]: Theme hotels in Las Vegas may well be a thing of the past. Most, if not all, of the new ones (Palazzo, Encore, Trump, and even the three year old Wynn) are headed back to, if there is a motif, “elegance.” We spent quite a bit of time at Palazzo and highly recommend it.
-[Surprise]: With only 550 large and wonderfully appointed rooms, a gorgeously landscaped Resort, a super restaurant, and a spa to rival them all, the JW Marriott is a bastion of privacy, pampering, and relaxation. The uniqueness of this property as a Vegas destination makes it worth spending a day or two here even if you have other arrangements on the Strip.
-[Big Surprise]: Just off the Strip is a non-descript Government research building that houses the Atomic Testing Museum, a monument to the creation of “the bomb” and the testing that followed during the next 30 years or so. Filled with artifacts, newspaper reports, and movies, this is an amazing (perhaps even important) stop which should command your interest for 2-3 hours. With all the human created fantasy in Las Vegas, here is the one place that allows you to wish reality really was a fantasy.
So there you have the most up to date report on Las Vegas we can offer. None of this means that those fabulous hotels and restaurants we have written about in the last three years or so are not still top of the line. But you gotta bet on something new, as well.
Wine writers and educators Monty (Nightlawyer12@aol.com)and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.