Dining Faves + Scouting for Group Dining
This isn’t a secret: Las Vegas is the land of excess. Pure and utter excess. You want fancy Cirque Shows? There are handfuls to choose from. Looking for daytime pool scenes? Yes, plenty of those. Nightclubs? Endless, plus the promoters keep sending me tweets about bottle service. Casual dining? You can find a fast food meal for $5, or an upscale casual burger joint doling out $17 burgers (still affordable and casual by these standards). Looking to wine and dine a girlfriend? There are countless fine dining options from French and Mediterranean to Japanese and Southwest, begging you to spend $100+ a person. Above that, there are a number of places offering tasting menus that soar over $200 per person for dinner, not inclusive of drinks.
This is a place where anything is possible and any budget and desires can be accommodated. In some ways, it’s the most incredible thing ever; in other ways, it’s the most overwhelming thing ever. How ever do you choose when you have three nights in Vegas and have to select three dinner spots out of about a million? The key is to make a selection, enter into the experience with full commitment and not think about the path not taken (I’m being dramatic, but I sometimes have some buyer’s remorse with choosing experiences, dining and otherwise). Also, when you find a place you love, there’s no harm in going back despite the fact that there are other restaurants begging to be experienced. There’s something to be said about knowing what you’re in for in terms of quality and service. Below are some of the spots we tried, plus some thoughts on our scouting mission for my grandmother’s 90th birthday bash in Vegas.
Located in the Palazzo, Sushisamba was our first dinner of this trip to Las Vegas. Having been there before, we knew we loved the food (Brazilian + Peruvian meet Japanese), and the service. The service this time was admittedly a bit rushed but the food was better than we remembered. They serve up sushi rolls for the Japanese lovers, plus seafood off the robata grill (the sea bass is to die for). Here’s the hot tip: they’re not great about coursing things out for you, so order gradually to enjoy the evening and not feel too rushed. We had food out within 5 minutes of ordering. Yes, I was hungry, but I would have liked to have not been done eating within 45 minutes of sitting down. Still, I was enamored with the private dining space and have been especially impressed with the responsive service in my communications with their team. Sushisamba is one of our finalists for my grandmother’s 90th birthday; our biggest task is creating a menu that finickier palates (read: non-sushi lovers) can enjoy.
Mesa Grill is fabulous on so many levels, it’s unreal. We’ve been there three times and I can guarantee I’ll make a return visit when I’m in Vegas again next year. I’ll be the first to admit that while I enjoy a great meal out and a reason to get dolled up, I’m not the foodiest of foodies. I’d rather have a zesty prickly pear margarita and shrimp tamale than an expensive glass of champagne and French cuisine. Those $300 tasting menus that feature 18 bite-sized courses of lime air? Yeah, I appreciate the gastronomical prowess but not enough to fork over hundreds of dollars (add to that the fact that I’m a pescetarian, and vegetarian tasting menus are the most insanely expensive options around in terms of value).
Now, ahi ‘nachos’ (thick cut pieces of tuna with a southwestern sauce), chile rellenos, and a creamy corn side? That I can get behind. This is one of those places that I think most people can get behind. Vibrant spices, delicious sauces and drool-worthy margaritas make this a place that is as delicious as it is unpretentious. Sure, it’s upscale and the menu isn’t cheap (though not nearly as high priced as some spots in Vegas), but the atmosphere is fun and approachable. This is another top contender for grandma’s 90th and is at the top of the list purely because the menu will have something that will delight any diner.
Oh my goodness, Jose Andres. I don’t even eat meat and Bazaar Meat knocks it out of the park for me. Ironically, I just mentioned above how I’m not the foodiest of foodies, and I swear I’m not! I do appreciate culinary creativity though, and Jose Andres is the king of that realm. In our brief encounter with the lounge, we noshed on liquid olives (olive juice that sits within a thin gelatenous coating that resembles an olive) and I sipped on a truffle-infused drink. Dining at any Jose Andres restaurant is a sensory explosion; his food challenges your mind with every bite and sip. My drink, for example? It smelled like a truffle farm (if you don’t like truffles, you’d hate this), but tasted like sparkling lemons. The balance works; the truffle scent clearly overpowers the lemon, whereas the lemon flavour manages to cut the truffle. Next time we’ll be back for a full meal. Despite being called Bazaar Meat, there are pescetarian and vegetarian-friendly options on the menu.
Holy heavens. Living in Anguilla, we miss Asian food on a broad scale. During our time on the West Coast, we had pho for breakfast, sushi for dinner four times, ramen for dinner, and Scott had dim sum once. In my book, you can never have too much sushi, and this trip certainly attempted to test that theory. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from LA-based Katsuya. Vegas has famed Nobu resaurant along with a spattering of other well-rated and respected Japanese spots. Was this going to be better? Different? I wasn’t sure. The result: Katsuya was fabulous. The sushi rolls were somewhat innovative – and huge; each roll had 8 – 10 hearty pieces. Some of their starters, which didn’t seem like regulars on Japanese menus (brussels sprouts and rock shrimp), were out-of-this-world delicious. I could have eaten a bucket of the brussels if it were socially acceptable. The drink menu offered up some incredible cocktails that used sake, Japanese beers, fresh squeezed juices, and other traditional Japanese accompaniments (think ginger and lemon). The server explained their multiple kitchens, one of which is their drink kitchen, where they fresh-squeeze their fruits and craft cocktails for eager patrons.
We visited Pantry at the Mirage for their soft opening, which meant that the restaurant wasn’t yet open to the public, but was open to some diners that were providing feedback on their new concept. I was excited to be a part of the process, seeing what Pantry had to offer and providing some candid thoughts; hopefully helpful information. The space is bright and still sparkling, it’s so new. The space is meant to feel like dining at grandma’s house, and integrates little rustic elements perfectly (think: mason jars to sip out of and food served on wooden planks/cutting boards). Homemade jams and locally sourced hot sauces adorn the table, and they serve up food 24 hours a day. It was their soft opening so I’m sure they were aiming to impress. I can only hope that the food and space stay as great as they were when we experienced it!
Follow my dining trail here:
Nana’s 90th // Group Dining in Vegas
While we dined at each spot, we looked critically at the menus, the pricing and the ambiance. Would this be a good spot for our rather motley crew? In our search for a list of four or five restaurant to present to my grandmother, we’ve come up with the following, which is still a work in progress:
- Mesa Grill, Caesar’s Palace
- SUSHISAMBA, Palazzo
- Olives by Todd English, Bellagio
- Sensi, Bellagio
For frequenters to LV, I’d love any input on restaurants that you think would be a good fit for 12 – 20 people of varying budgets; something that feels special without breaking the bank (e.g. no $200 Joel Robuchon tasting menus). Comments below are appreciated!
xo from the islands,