By E.C. Gladstone
CityCenter, the new giant on the Strip, may have its pros and cons in the competitive field of Las Vegas hotels, but one thing is for sure: it holds a treasure trove of incomparable dining experiences. There are so many that one leading critic in town thought the idea of summing them all up was practically impossible. Not me. Your tireless blogger has checked out nearly all the eateries in ARIA, Vdara, Crystals and Mandarin Oriental, and can tell which of the experiences foodies truly should not miss.
10. BarMasa/Shaboo, ARIA
The quality of fish is absolutely excellent at this outpost of New York’s fanciest sushi spot — but is it worth paying five times (at least) the price of what sushi would cost in many other top-notch Japanese restaurants in Las Vegas hotels? Only you, and your accountant, can answer that.
9. Tea Lounge, Mandarin Oriental
A perfectly executed English tea, with a modest modernity in the sandwiches (Black Forest ham, curried chicken salad) and pastries (gooseberry tarts, banana mousse), and an impressive selection of high-quality leaves for the teapot. I would actually rate this higher, just based on the premise of fulfilling expectations and then some, if it weren’t a relatively simple mission. Highly recommended.
8. Twist, Mandarin Oriental
Why not a higher number? Legendary chef Pierre Gagnaire’s adventurous molecular/fusion fare may wow true foodies, but it’s just as likely to leave others unsatisfied (and poorer for the pursuit). The rooms have some nice design touches, but wouldn’t look out of place in your average metropolitan hotel. The emperor isn’t exactly naked, but he sure is wearing a tight Speedo.
7. Jean-Phillippe Patisserie, ARIA
Sure, whimsical design notwithstanding, it’s only a pastry shop (with gelati, house-made chocolates, sandwiches and salads) but I felt like I was in an energetic midtown New York café — and in this sense, I think it delivers what all of CityCenter promises better than any other single spot.
6. Union, ARIA
A touch more mature than sister Las Vegas hotel steakhouses Fix (Bellagio), Stack (Mirage) and Brand (Monte Carlo), casino-side Union offers quality fare with a dram of distinguishing flair. Of the bone in/out and organic meat options, the Tomahawk T-bone has flavor to match the bold presentation, while the generous, aromatic black pot mussels may be the best deal in the whole complex. Sides like squash brulee and hearty, smoky ham hock mac & cheese are worth a trip, too. The lively bar here is among the busiest in Aria (great signature cocktails — try the Heat of the Moment).
5. Julian Serrano, ARIA
Michelin two-starred Picasso’s Spanish chef goes down-home at this Las Vegas hotel eatery with a modern tapas and paellas menu, highlighted by addictive crab gazpacho, chicken croquettes, raspberry tuna skewers and sangrias. Excellent quality throughout (at moderate prices), though after three experiences, I find myself already wishing the kitchen could be just a little more adventuresome. One of the best sommeliers in town, Desi Echavarrie, works here: take his recommendations!
4. MOzen, Mandarin Oriental
On the third floor overlooking Crystals, MOzen offers Thai, Japanese, Indian and American dishes served from mini-kitchens (and a sushi bar) flanking the clean, comfortable dining area. While most all-day, multi-ethnic menus come across ho-hum, the authenticity of MOzen’s cooking staff and ingredients shines through in all dishes, which combine surprisingly well. Try the creative Tasting of Tuna, supple and satisfying North Indian lamb shank curry, perhaps a dim sum bento box or tandoori platter.
3. American Fish, ARIA
One of the most casual environments for star chef Michael Mina (though not “casually” priced), this woody fish-camp inspired open kitchen room serves a menu full of delicate, elegant, creative (though not always North American) seafood preparations, using everything from bacon to Hawaiian sea water to flavor. They grill some nice beef, as well. Don’t miss the chocolate three ways dessert.
2. Jean-Georges Steakhouse, ARIA
Self-described as a “greatest hits” of the awarded Alsatian chef’s many restaurants, JGS is considerably more creative and a tad more approachable than his other Las Vegas hotel steakhouse, Prime, in Bellagio. The 21-day wet aged prime beef here is accompanied by a half-dozen oyster choices, silky cured salmon, delicate sablefish and texture/flavor-filled soy miso glazed short ribs, just to name a few. Creative cocktails and an able som’s pairings help wash it all down. They have a gorgeous private room, too.
1. Sage, ARIA
Though Chicago chef Shawn McClain has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation, his Vegas debut took many by surprise as the peak experience in CityCenter. Seasonal creative American cooking is his metier — and by “creative” I don’t mean cute or quirky (even if foie gras crème brulee is one of the standouts). It’s been years since I’ve had a meal where every single bite was absolutely excellent. Roasted sweetbreads, sheep’s milk ricotta gnocchi, perfect scallops, steak tartare and tenderloin are among the dishes I won’t soon forget. Not to mention the caneles des Bordeaux dessert. An entertaining Absinthe service augments the experience in these sedate-sexy rooms.
Also commendable: Lemongrass, Sirio, Blossom, Brasserie Puck
Also considered: Beso, Silk Road, The Buffet at Aria, Todd English’s PUB, Mastro’s Ocean Club
Also available: Amore Patisserie (street-level Mandarin Oriental) and at Aria, Café Vettro, Skybox (including takeout), Sweet Chill (ice cream/gelato/sorbet/coffee) and small bites at Deuce and Gold Room.
Veteran entertainment and travel writer E. C. Gladstone writes regularly on top Strip entertainers, restauranteurs, moguls and behind-the-scenes players for many local and national publications and Web sites. Like many Las Vegans, he sleeps only when absolutely necessary.