Eating My Way Through Vegas

5.30.2006

By Matthew Breen

I've been watching the changes in Las Vegas since I was a kid. Having ridden in the backseat of a minivan for the 12 hours of Interstate 15 between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles twice every summer of my childhood, I was witness to the dramatic annual changes in the skyline. The suburbs started farther and farther out each year, and casinos shot glittering towers into the sky. The city was exploding, growing up, becoming less Viva Las Vegas and more Ocean's Twelve.

After one too many $4.99 prime rib dinners, my family swore off a particular kind of heat-lamp-and-giant-metal-tureen casino food for good. Shrimp cocktail this far from an ocean? We'll pass. Not being gamblers, my folks had little reason for us to dine there, and it was easier to drive on through. It seemed that despite all the billions of dollars being spent there and all the hundreds of thousands of new residents moving to town, finding a decent meal was as difficult as dodging one-armed bandits'until a few years ago.

Clearly hoping to lure in epicures and hungry philistines alike, Las Vegas is making huge investments in entertainment and dining. The casinos have brought in Broadway and Cirque du Soleil shows, and have imported master chefs from around the world to launch signature restaurants. Many travelers now find the new gastronomical delights to be a more compelling draw than the high-roller tables ever were. Now, for the first time since Bugsy Siegel's casino went up, nongaming revenues (including entertainment and food) have bested gambling.

Though I still had a lingering impression of a vile circa 1990 Circus Circus buffet meal on my mind, it was with a mostly open mind and empty belly that I ventured forth into Sin City to eat until I could eat no more. I decided after one halfhearted trip to the MGM's gym (where Las Vegas star James Caan was Exercycling next to me) to abandon my calorie-consciousness to the wind. Guilt is a useless emotion in this city, as evidenced by all the full-grown adults carrying giant mai tais in two-foot-high plastic souvenir mugs with brightly colored sippy straws at 8 in the morning. I decided to roll with it, and if I needed to be rolled out of town, so be it. (Still, I briefly wondered if it's possible to develop gout in just one week.)

For more details on Las Vegas' most fabulous restaurants including Sensi, rm Seafood, Mix at THEhotel, STACK, Jo'l Robuchon at the Mansion, Isla Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar, and other fine dining venues, pick up the June issue of Out.

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