Las Vegas is about so much more than gambling. Over the years, it has evolved into a haven for foodies who love big names, and big flash in the dining room. In Vegas, it’s not uncommon to see 24-carat gold flake on a grapefruit-sized macron, eat truffles flown in from Italy that same day, and drink Bordeaux served by a French master sommelier. The emphasis on the international is deliberate, as Vegas is constantly borrowing from the best of global cuisine -- with over-the-top flare. Here are five restaurants with James Beard Award ties to try right now.
James Beard Award-winning chef Shawn McClain helms this casual pizzeria and brewery named for the temperature its wood-fired ovens. The slices are slightly thinner than Chicago deep dish, but thicker than a typical New York-style crust, and are meant to be paired with decadent craft beers like Ben & Jerry’s Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale. The pie with fresh shaved truffles, béchamel, potato, and fresh thyme ($29) is a must-try. For dessert, don’t miss the Elvis milkshake: peanut butter, banana, and chocolate ice cream, topped with candied bacon, whipped cream, and an optional splash of rum ($9).
The new restaurant in Vegas from James Beard winner Alain Ducasse harkens back to the style and flavors of the French and Italian Rivieras. Simple plates -- mostly seasonal and farm-fresh from the West Coast -- are designed for health as well as indulgence. Try the octopus in a salad of coco beans and sweet bell pepper confit ($12), a ham or tomato-basil tigelle sandwich ($8), or a perfectly seared filet mignon ($44). For dessert, choose the cappuccino cup ($12) – a demure coffee and chocolate concoction -- or the ever-popular limoncello baba ($12). Choose a glass of wine from the excellent rose menu, or head upstairs to the Skyfall lounge where you can sip Ducasse’s signature champagne or make a selection from the cocktail menu. The spectacular view, it turns out, is complimentary.
3. Bardot Brasserie
Parisian authenticity is the aim of Michael Mina's Bardot Brasserie, a 2016 Best New Restaurant semi-finalist. This French brasserie -- complete with black and white checkered tiles and sleek wood tables -- gets an opulent spin in Las Vegas. Sommeliers pair each dish with wines from an extensive list of domestic and imported bottles, and the frisee salad aux lardons and poached egg ($19) is probably the tastiest on this side of the Atlantic. Black truffle fries ($13) are a must-have, as is the country baguette ($5) that comes with Beurre d’Echire, an 84 percent butterfat butter that's cherished by chefs. The duck a l’orange ($17) represents a modern twist on the French classic, with glazed duck wings and confit in a maltaise sauce that’s served in a blood orange cup. Leave room for a chocolate or berry macaron ($13) -- topped with 24k gold flake -- for dessert.
James Beard Award winner Julian Serrano's Vegas restaurant Lago is a must-visit, especially if you love contemporary small plates with Milanese flair. If you can, book a table on the patio where you’ll enjoy views of the Bellagio’s famous musical fountain, and the nearby Paris and New York New York casino resorts. Enjoy the seafood crudo infused with fruits and vegetables (from $9) or a caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella that’s flown in daily from Italy with California heirloom tomatoes. Pair this with the Cucumber Misto, the signature cocktail that has Grey Goose pear vodka, limoncello, blood orange syrup, lime juice, cucumber sparkling soda, cucumber, and blueberries. There is also an extensive list of French and American wines that can be ordered off an iPad.
Mario Carbone was a 2016 James Beard Award finalist for his eponymous Manhattan restaurant where it can take months to get a table. In Vegas, you’ll rarely have to wait, and there’s lots more room for things like cascading chandeliers and a sprawling bar. The restaurant pays homage to the classic Italian-American establishments of the 1950s and '60s, and emphasizes Rat Pack-style glamour and excellent service. On the menu, you’ll find classics like lobster fra diavolo and a Caesar salad topped with a single, crunchy, perfectly seasoned crouton ($21). The cheesecake is imported, of course, from New York.