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Richman on Vegas Dining


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GQ's Alan Richman, who I very much like, took the time this month to take apart the celebrity-chef-driven Vegas dining scene on a philosphical and culinary level.

I was pleased, in that it confirmed all my baseless prejudices, and it means that I never have to back there again. An interesting read for you next airplane ride.

If you've been to Vegas in the last few years, you probably think it has become a great restaurant city.  You may be right.  It just isn't a very good food city...Here's the first troubling message: They're [40 million annual visitors] being taught that a restaurant can be great even if it has no past, no personality, no uniqueness...Do Daniel Bouloud and Guy Savoy represent real people to those eating at their restaurants, or are they merely logos?

THE GOOD:

Restaurant Guy Savoy: "Put a gun to my head -- not all thact common in Vegas any more -- and I'd be tempted to call Vegas the better of two [the other at Guy Savoy in Paris] superlative meals."

Aureole

Daniel Boulud Brasserie: "I'm not sure the radical concept of simple food overseen by a celebrated chef at a reasonable price [$48 lunch special] can catch on in Vegas."

Bartolotta Ristorante de Mare

THE OK

Craftsteak: "a steakhouse imitating a restaurant imitating a steakhouse...Each dish was well prepared except the Caesar Salad, terrible in more ways I can list...The wine list is badly overpriced, but nobody cares."

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

Spago

Bouchon: "The problem with Bouchon is that a thousand other places run by chefs not named Thomas Keller are just as good."

Michael Mina

Emeril's New Orleans Fish House

THE LOUSY

Alex: "I asked for a $131 Burgundy. He shook his head and pointed out a $180 Burgundy. I countered with a $114 Burgundy. No, only the $180 bottle would do. Nearing defeat, I suggested the $90 wine pairing. No, the $180 bottle. Finally we agreed on soemthing red for $100."

Mix in Las Vegas: "I hated the hostess...I hated my table...I hated the butter with peanuts on it...I hated the sommelier...I hated the view...This place isn't merely Ducasse's worst idea. It may be the worst idea ever."

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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It was an interesting article. I felt that he didn't go into enough depth on some of the places but it obviously due to the constraints of the articles size. I was surprised he disliked Alex as much as he did, I have heard so many good things about it. While that sommiler issue was unforgiveable, it was odd. Additionally, I was surprised by the lack of a dinner at Joel Rubachon at the Mansion, I would have expected that given he ate at the compareable Guy Savoy, which seems to be not as positviely reviewed as JR at this point.

"A man's got to believe in something...I believe I'll have another drink." -W.C. Fields

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Interesting to say the least. While a dining is a subjective experiece to at least some degree I must say that I don't know anyone who has had a GOOD experience at Aureole nor anyone having less than a stellar meal at ALEX and I'm talking about numerous visits by friends and colleagues.

There is absolutely no excuse for rude service at any fine restaurant no matter the location.

Of course I would be speaking to the maitre'd immediately should that happen but as a diner I'm in a different position than one writing a review.

(I've been to Alex 3 times and Aureole once).

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FG,

I totally concur (and forgot to mention) Aureole, I have heard nothing but mediocre to bad reports about it as well. Almost had a major business dinner there a few months ago, glad I had it somewhere else.

Countdown to dinner at L'Atelier....20 days. I'll judge for myself.

"A man's got to believe in something...I believe I'll have another drink." -W.C. Fields

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More than the reviews of the individual restaurants, I thought the interesting part of the article was was Richman's thesis that Las Vegas -- in becoming a faux fine-dining destination in which (absentee, highly paid) brand name chefs; architectural overkill; brutally expensive place settings; and 90-minute 5-course meals were the rule -- was screwing up the restaurant scene elsewhere. By creating strip-mall four-star spots, Las Vegas sends the message to big spenders (who mught be persuaded to support good restaurants outside of Vegas) were being taught that an 8-story wine atrium with the name of a famous chef in neon stuck on it was "class," as opposed to excellent restaurants that succeeed merely on the quality of their cooking and their service.

I haven't eaten at the big name Vegas spots (save Le Cirque a couple years back), but it's easy to look at the restaurant scened there with a jaundiced eye. I'm curious to hear what others think.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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It has been a few years since I was last in Vegas. Although some of the current big name restaurants were not there yet, the trend had clearly begun. What I found was a hit or miss situation. Some of the restaurants were good and lived up to the hype and others did not. I don't think that is significantly different than restaurant "outposts" elsewhere. I personally am not crazy about this trend, though I don't begrudge the chefs for their success.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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FG,

I totally concur (and forgot to mention) Aureole, I have heard nothing but mediocre to bad reports about it as well.  Almost had a major business dinner there a few months ago, glad I had it somewhere else.

Countdown to dinner at L'Atelier....20 days.  I'll judge for myself.

***You're ahead of me by a few weeks (L'Atelier in late October). Looking forward to your comments.

As for the above-captioned article. I've eaten at most all of the 'high end' restaurants in Las Vegas and found food/service to be excellent in many.

As I've written previously...dinner at Le Cirque on at least 5 visits surpassed Le Cirque/NYC by a wide margin.

The pricing for Guy Savoy and Robuchon seems staggering to me and I will be very interested to see how those two play-out over the next year.

Edited by Foodie-Girl (log)
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Excellently put busboy and docsconz.

FG, I definately agree that it will be interesting to see how these restaurants do. IIRC, JR at the Manison has been open for at least a year and seems to be doing well. I think that inevitably there is enough money in Las Vegas, and enough people wanting to appear "classy" and "sophisticated" and they figure the best way to do that is to eat an extrodinarily expensive meal, and this type of business will keep the tables filled. Whether or not this type of business is good or bad is debatable and it would seem irrelevant to the chef so long as his bottom lines are met.

Regarding L'Atelier, the wide swath of experiences from overwhelmingly positive to negative is interesting and perhaps a bit troubling.

"A man's got to believe in something...I believe I'll have another drink." -W.C. Fields

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As a rule, wild horses couldn't drag me to Las Vegas. I went once out of morbid curiosity (when the MGM Grand and Luxor were new - before the "fake other city" trend) and that was more than enough. As I was driving from LA area to Kansas City, I did stop there a couple of months ago. I ate at Bradley Ogden and had an above-average dinner, but not as good as I've enjoyed at some of his other restaurants.

I think the restaurant 'scene' created there is consistent with all the rest of the faux-ness of it. If I want to see the Eifel Tower, I'd prefer to go to Paris; likewise New York, NY; Lake Como/Italy. But I know people who just love going there and, as long as they kidnap me and take me there, let 'em have it. All of the elegance and class that money can buy (sarcasm emoticon here).

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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  If I want to see the Eifel Tower, I'd prefer to go to Paris; likewise New York, NY; Lake Como/Italy. 

You'd be doing all that traveling to all those different continents for nothing, when you could see duplicates of all those things just as good in one place! What's the point? I mean, I used to think that EPCOT was the best you could get, but now that we have Las Vegas there's really no need to leave the US at all !!!

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Fakeness, wretched excess, et al notwithstanding I am of the opinion that Vegas now has to now be considered in the top echelon of dining cities in the US. Regardless of your opinion of it there really are some top notch dining destinations avaliable there now.

"A man's got to believe in something...I believe I'll have another drink." -W.C. Fields

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They're [40 million annual visitors] being taught that a restaurant can be great even if it has no past, no personality, no uniqueness...Do Daniel Bouloud and Guy Savoy represent real people to those eating at their restaurants, or are they merely logos?

These arguments seem ill-conceived. No past: on the one hand, any new restaurant can be said to have no past; on the other hand, an outpost of Guy Savoy or another established restaurant surely has a past. No personality: do the restaurants in Las Vegas really lack personality? It's hard to know what Richman means by this -- perhaps it is explained elsewhere in the story -- but it seems there are plenty of establishments there that reflect the personalities of their chefs and of the city of Las Vegas. Maybe Richman doesn't like that personality, but it's a personality nonetheless. No uniqueness: this objection would seem to apply to any duplicate restaurant, such as (in the case of New York City) Per Se and Nobu. Even so, the restaurants in Las Vegas do seem unique, in that most are much more glamorous than their originals. Again, I think Richman may be confusing something of which he does not approve with a lack of that something. Do Daniel Boulud and Guy Savoy represent real people to those eating at their restaurants: do they represent real people to those eating at Daniel in New York and Guy Savoy in Paris? Is everyone dining at those places a personal friend of the chef? Does Daniel Boulud cook any of the food at Daniel? Is he always there? Once chefs put their names out in the public eye they're brands, whether they like it or not and whether have one restaurant or a hundred.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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They're [40 million annual visitors] being taught that a restaurant can be great even if it has no past, no personality, no uniqueness...Do Daniel Bouloud and Guy Savoy represent real people to those eating at their restaurants, or are they merely logos?

These arguments seem ill-conceived. No past: on the one hand, any new restaurant can be said to have no past; on the other hand, an outpost of Guy Savoy or another established restaurant surely has a past. No personality: do the restaurants in Las Vegas really lack personality? It's hard to know what Richman means by this -- perhaps it is explained elsewhere in the story -- but it seems there are plenty of establishments there that reflect the personalities of their chefs and of the city of Las Vegas. Maybe Richman doesn't like that personality, but it's a personality nonetheless. No uniqueness: this objection would seem to apply to any duplicate restaurant, such as (in the case of New York City) Per Se and Nobu. Even so, the restaurants in Las Vegas do seem unique, in that most are much more glamorous than their originals. Again, I think Richman may be confusing something of which he does not approve with a lack of that something. Do Daniel Boulud and Guy Savoy represent real people to those eating at their restaurants: do they represent real people to those eating at Daniel in New York and Guy Savoy in Paris? Is everyone dining at those places a personal friend of the chef? Does Daniel Boulud cook any of the food at Daniel? Is he always there? Once chefs put their names out in the public eye they're brands, whether they like it or not and whether have one restaurant or a hundred.

***Well said, Fat Guy

Edited by Foodie-Girl (log)
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You'd be doing all that traveling to all those different continents for nothing, when you could see duplicates of all those things just as good in one place!  What's the point?  I mean, I used to think that EPCOT was the best you could get, but now that we have Las Vegas there's really no need to leave the US at all !!!

Please, oh please, tell me that you're kidding or being sarcastic or fecetious or . . . in any case, not serious! :shock:

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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These arguments seem ill-conceived. No past: on the one hand, any new restaurant can be said to have no past; on the other hand, an outpost of Guy Savoy or another established restaurant surely has a past. No personality: do the restaurants in Las Vegas really lack personality? It's hard to know what Richman means by this -- perhaps it is explained elsewhere in the story -- but it seems there are plenty of establishments there that reflect the personalities of their chefs and of the city of Las Vegas. Maybe Richman doesn't like that personality, but it's a personality nonetheless. No uniqueness: this objection would seem to apply to any duplicate restaurant, such as (in the case of New York City) Per Se and Nobu. Even so, the restaurants in Las Vegas do seem unique, in that most are much more glamorous than their originals. Again, I think Richman may be confusing something of which he does not approve with a lack of that something. Do Daniel Boulud and Guy Savoy represent real people to those eating at their restaurants: do they represent real people to those eating at Daniel in New York and Guy Savoy in Paris? Is everyone dining at those places a personal friend of the chef? Does Daniel Boulud cook any of the food at Daniel? Is he always there? Once chefs put their names out in the public eye they're brands, whether they like it or not and whether have one restaurant or a hundred.

In the most strict sense of rhetoric, you are probably correct. But I *do* hope that your argument is rhetorical. Or that you haven't been there to witness the absurdity. It really is a shame, and IMHO cheapens the good name of most of those involved. I appreciated Bourdain/Ruhlman on the topic: "are we just being too cynical" (or hypercritical or whatever they said) but it really is a shame to think that there is a strip mall of all the great restaurants of the world in the middle of a (I know I'm going to get flamed here but so be it) soul-less place such as Las Vegas has become. So, rather than visit the greatest restaurants, you can fly to one location, buy a "day pass" and check them all out without leaving a two-mile radius? Dear me. That is sad. I daresay we will not see a Las Vegas iteration of El Bulli. That is when I will abandon all hope.

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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It's rhetorical only in the sense that I couldn't care less about any of those things, so long as the food is great. So, to me, if Richman is saying his meal at Guy Savoy Las Vegas was better than at Guy Savoy Paris, all the rest of what he's saying is irrelevant.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I'm just saying, I was to Bermuda once, so I can tell you that Europe isn't all it's cracked up to be. And as for European and other exotic foods, if you really have to have those, you really can't do better than right here in the US of A either.

You'd be doing all that traveling to all those different continents for nothing, when you could see duplicates of all those things just as good in one place!  What's the point?  I mean, I used to think that EPCOT was the best you could get, but now that we have Las Vegas there's really no need to leave the US at all !!!

Please, oh please, tell me that you're kidding or being sarcastic or fecetious or . . . in any case, not serious! :shock:

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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I read Richman's articles because they're food/restaurant related, but his words certainly don't mean the end all to me. I often feel that he goes into a restaurant with a preconceived notion with how much he likes it, and then sets the restaurant up to either succeed or fail. Take for instance Alex--his entire experience can be summed up by the interaction with the sommelier? No real mention of the food or the rest of the dining room staff? Granted, it's very annoying to part of the "upselling" process with wine, but the frequency with which this happens to him in his reviews is a bit unsettling. I know what Richman looks like (his picture is printed on his book jackets)--doesn't he go to restaurants announced (not in incognito)? How is that one person that's very recognizable encounter so many problems with wine service?

Sorry for the rant, but it upsets me when people read an article and say that they don't have to go to a restaurant or visit a city because of one writer's opinion--an opinion that doesn't even seem to be that informed. Just like here on e-gullet, if you're going to knock a restaurant--tell us why!

I prefer the Jeffrey Steingarten article in new issue of Vogue--where he actually talks about the food and the service in depth, rather than just "I hate" and "I hate." It definately makes me want to get on a plane at eat at Joel Robuchon....

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It's rhetorical only in the sense that I couldn't care less about any of those things, so long as the food is great. So, to me, if Richman is saying his meal at Guy Savoy Las Vegas was better than at Guy Savoy Paris, all the rest of what he's saying is irrelevant.

Well said....

moosnsqrl, I think you are absolutely entitled to your own opinion but I think its a bit much to say that Vegas outposts of other fine dining establishments are the end of the world, like Fat Guy said, if the food is good, what does it matter? What if this trend was occuring in Indinapolis or Des Moines or Jackson Hole, would you still feel the same? It seems more that you just dislike Vegas itself. Clearly I am trying to read your mind so take it with a grain of salt.... :raz:

"A man's got to believe in something...I believe I'll have another drink." -W.C. Fields

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I read Richman's articles because they're food/restaurant related, but his words certainly don't mean the end all to me.  I often feel that he goes into a restaurant with a preconceived notion with how much he likes it, and then sets the restaurant up to either succeed or fail.  Take for instance Alex--his entire experience can be summed up by the interaction with the sommelier?  No real mention of the food or the rest of the dining room staff?  Granted, it's very annoying to part of the "upselling" process with wine, but the frequency with which this happens to him in his reviews is a bit unsettling.  I know what Richman looks like (his picture is printed on his book jackets)--doesn't he go to restaurants announced (not in incognito)?  How is that one person that's very recognizable encounter so many problems with wine service?

Sorry for the rant, but it upsets me when people read an article and say that they don't have to go to a restaurant or visit a city because of one writer's opinion--an opinion that doesn't even seem to be that informed.  Just like here on e-gullet, if you're going to knock a restaurant--tell us why! 

I prefer the Jeffrey Steingarten article in new issue of Vogue--where he actually talks about the food and the service in depth, rather than just "I hate" and "I hate."  It definately makes me want to get on a plane at eat at Joel Robuchon....

The article is indeed an in-depth look at the Las Vegas scene and -- whether one agrees or not -- is an interesting read that I thought would spawn an interesting thread (though it is handicapped by the fact that the piece is not available on-line). Particularly if you haven't read it -- which you seem not to have -- I think comparing it negatively to Steingarten in that regard is unfair.

The reviews were capsule reviews and are the sauce, not the meat of the article. Not wanting to infringe on copyrighted material or do a boatload of typing, but in hopes of giving up a little of the article's flavor, I did a little sampling of what I thought would be some of his more trenchant observations, and did the rankings myself. He does indeed say more than "I hate" about Ducasse's place (none of it good) and talk more about than the sommelier at Alex (some of it good).

But again, to focus on the reviews is to miss the larger point of the article.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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To point, I did read the article and it completely left me wanting more (and I completely appreciate the tid-bits of information and even bringing this article for a conversation piece--I didn't mean to imply that was the only thing written). Although people are certainly entitled to their opinions, I would certainly expect more from Richman than just a paragraph snippet either applauding or disgracing the restaurant. I travel to Vegas frequently for work (and admittedly I'm not the biggest fan)--and there are some great restaurants there. Are there bad ones? Absolutely, but there are in any city. The general drubbing of Vegas restaurants seems to be unfounded (by much speculation) than on experience--and here's a chance to provide the public with detail and instead he misses the mark. Fat Guy is dead-on: if the meal at Guy Savoy is better in Vegas than in Paris, doesn't that refute his point on the restaurants there?

Maybe I'm bitter because I actually liked Mix--I had a great waiter who was so much fun and provided exquisite service and enjoyed delicious, well-executed food for every course.

And moonsqrl, I totally see your point and to some extent agree on the strip-mall-ness of Vegas, but the first thing that pops into my mind when I think of "great restaurants" and "mall" together isn't Vegas--it's the Time Warner center in NY. Stay at the Mandarin, eat at per se, Masa, Bouchon, Cafe Gray, etc. and fly out

Edited by Colgate (log)
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Colgate you make some great points. I also had a good time at Mix, for what its worth.

Anyone know where I can find the Steingarten article, Vogue online?

"A man's got to believe in something...I believe I'll have another drink." -W.C. Fields

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My apologies for implying that you hadn't read the article.

And I appreciate your input. For better or for worse, Vegas is a major food destination now, but much of the discussion I see is breathlessly uncritical or of the "I'll be there in a week, what's good?" variety. Given that we all seem destined (condemned?) to spend time in Vegas every now and again for a meeting or a convention it's interesting to see a little critical discussion both on the National Critic/Glossy/Deeper Meaning level and on the informed eGullet thread level.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Busboy, I completely agree. I would love to see more a critical but balanced tone when discussing Vegas restaurants--for some it may be about the flash and the $$$, but I would hope there has to be more to it to lure Robuchon, Savoy, Boulud, Keller, Ducasse and even Trotter to open (or attempt to open) an establishment there.

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