By Charlene Giannetti
Our favorite hotel in Las Vegas is the Venetian, a recreation of the fabled Italian city. And, indeed, while we sat in Mario Batali’s restaurant, Enotecca, situated in the middle of the hotel’s Piazza San Marco, we could almost believe that we had crossed an ocean rather than the mountains to arrive at our vacation destination.
But there are other reasons to love the Venetian and its newer sister hotel, The Palazzo. The rooms are spacious suites with a living area and a bedroom area with large, comfortable beds. Each space is equipped with a plasma television with many movie channels. The bathrooms are marble with both an oversized tub and a generous shower. There’s even a TV to watch while soaking.
As luxurious as the rooms are, we spent a minimal amount of time inside ours because there’s so much to do at the Venetian/Palazzo complex. Each hotel has a casino, of course, and the adventurous among us tried their hands at the various table games and slot machines. Because our thoughts are never far from food, we concentrated on the restaurants. Between the two hotels, there are more than thirty restaurants to try, many of them the creations of star-power chefs like Emeril Lagasse, Batali, Wolfgang Puck, and Charlie Trotter. Where, outside of New York, can you find so many fabulous dining establishments in such close proximity?
Our first night in Vegas we dined at Tao Asian Bistro (left). In New York, Tao is known as a hot spot hangout for celebrities and wannabes. The Vegas Tao, like everything in Vegas, is oversized, with 42,000 square feet for dining, lounging, and dancing. Despite its opulence, the sumptuous velvets and silks used in the décor, as well as the mesmerizing waterfalls and the hard-carved 20-foot Buddha, convey a calming effect, at least during the dining hours. (After hours, we would image, the club is anything but calm).
For the novice, the menu can be overwhelming. Besides sushi and sashimi, the menu includes many small plate selections, special dishes, soups, noodles and rice. Main dishes are designated by land, sea, and sky. We followed the recommendations of our server, deciding to share several dishes, including lobster wontons with shiitake ginger broth, miso glazed chilean sea bass with wok vegetables, Thai stuffed shrimp with garlic, lime and Thai chili sauce, and a Kobe sashimi. All were excellent.
Steakhouses are very popular in Vegas and one of the best is Emeril’s Delmonico Steakhouse (left). Entering from the promenade in the Venetian, we were unprepared for the size of the restaurant. There are several rooms and the tables are set far enough apart to provide privacy and elbow room. The chairs and banquets are plush. The walls are white washed with arched ceilings highlighted by artfully placed lighting. The effect was similar to eating in an underground grotto.
Emeril adds his own Cajun-Creole spin to the beef and fish on the menu and the results are wonderful. It is a steakhouse, so we knew we would be safe with the meat dishes. What surprised us was the fish. One member of our party opted for the pepper seared Ahi tuna and found the dish similar to steak au poivre. Another opted for a double-header of beef—the classic steak tartare and the filet mignon. The tartare was not overwhelming, leaving plenty of room for the filet. Emeril always manages to do wonderful things with the lowly spud, and we loved his country smashed potatoes. For dessert, we chose the banana cream pie (large and rich, enough for a table of four to share), and the root beer float.
We knew as soon as we looked at the menu at First (left), Executive Chef Sam DeMarco’s new restaurant in the Palazzo, that we would love it. First of all, DeMarco is a New Yorker, having run a restaurant in the Village for many years that was a mainstay for a disparate group of people that included former Mayor Ed Koch and the Mayflower Madame Sydney Biddle Barrows. Second, he states right on the menu: “Tommy is a diehard Yankee fan. Live with it.” Yes! And the Tommy Burger has specials for everyone “Red Sox fans not included.” Double yes!
We ate two lunches at First and had good experiences both times. One member of our party described the décor as “upscale diner,” and that about sums it up. The large booths against the walls have fantastic views of the strip. Since the place stays open all night, the late night action is a popular attraction. Rather than bread, the server brings hot pretzels with three different dipping sauces to nibble on. Burgers, mini and large, are the most popular items on the menu. The mini ones come in a group of four, enough for one person with a large appetite or two people who want to share. Eggs are also a good choice. There’s the Lucky Strike Omelet or the NY Egg “Sam”wich with bacon, egg, and cheese.
On our last night in Vegas, we had dinner at Charlie’s Restaurant, in the Palazzo. Chef/owner Charlie Trotter is known for his perfectionist streak. He had a cameo role in the 1997 film, “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” where he screamed at an assistant, “I will kill your whole family if you don’t get this right!” Well, we’re sure he wouldn’t go that far, but his staff is definitely trained to aspire to be the best. The service was beyond impeccable, rising to a level rarely experienced in any restaurant anywhere. (Where else do you see a parade of servers march out with dishes, wait until everyone is positioned, and then place the food on the table? A military marching band exhibits less precision).
The show would be enough, but the food was magnificent. We started with an appetizer, fried spiced globe artichoke with honey, pine nuts and mint. The pine nuts were seared into the skin of the artichokes, imparting a crunchy, nutty taste, while the honey and mint were the perfect complements. We enjoyed a pasta special as an intermezzo, a thin fettucine with salmon and lemon. For a main course, we loved the hand harvested sea scallops with parsley emulsion and yogurt. Our side dish, tiny carrots with cardamom and pecans, nearly stole the show. Our dessert choice was rhubarb tapioca pearl with lychee and green tea daifuku. Delicious and the perfect ending to a perfect meal.
Besides the incredible restaurants, there is incredible shopping at the Venetian/Palazzo. Barney’s anchors the Shoppes at the Palazzo (left), that also include all the familiar designers from Fifth and Madison Avenues—Ralph Lauren, Diane Von Furstenberg, Christian Louboutin, and many others. Our favorite for unusual items is Annie Creamcheese Designer Vintage.
The Venetian’s Grand Canal Shops are more interesting. Don’t miss Venetzia filled with designer-created jewelry using Venetian glass. This is a must stop for those souvenirs to bring home. (Who has to know you didn’t really go to Italy?)
Shows in Vegas are lengendary. This is, after all, Sinatra territory and there are many performers following in his footsteps. Cher and Bette Midler will be returning to Caesars Palace this month. The Venetian still packs them in for Blue Man Group while the Palazzo presents Jersey Boys. If you haven’t seen Jersey Boys on Broadway (or even if you have) this production is terrific and the theater is beautifully designed and oversized to accommodate a Vegas-sized crowd. The acoustics are great and you won’t miss any note of those Frankie Valli tunes.
The Venetian/Palazzo houses a Canyon Ranch Spa that is a cut above the rest. The services are professional and the staff is always eager to fit you in and cater to your every need. (The facial I had was the best ever). If you need a snack, stop into the Canyon Ranch Café in the Palazzo. All the menu offerings use healthy organic ingredients and even include the calorie count so you can make sure not to overdo. (Or save those calories for later).
Summer in Vegas is hot, but with so many pools to choose from at this complex, you won’t have to worry. There are large pools, small secluded pools, warm therapy pools, and whirlpool pools. The pool staff, young and energetic, will bring you towels and drinks. We even found one who dashed off to buy us sunscreen when we realized we had left ours at home.
Las Vegas took a big hit as the economic crisis hit. Somehow, even though this desert resort is thousands of miles away from Wall Street, the city became the poster child for banker excess. How could banks and corporations travel to Vegas for conferences and meetings when other people were suffering? Somehow we were left with the image of fat cat financial types gambling in casinos and sitting in spas. What was lost in all this rhetoric was the fact that those conferences and meetings keep regular working people employed, all those hourly workers in the hotels, restaurants, and casinos.
Things have not returned to normal in Vegas, not yet anyway. That’s good news for those who are looking for someplace to vacation. The hotels have special deals, the airfares are reasonable, and there is still plenty of action to make for a fun-filled few days. Outside of New York and Los Angeles, Las Vegas ranks right up there as the playground for the rich and famous. For a long weekend, you can be one of them.
For more information on the Venetian and Palazzo, visit the websites: