Pack your taste buds: A golfer's guide to Las Vegas' celebrity chefs

By Larry Olmsted, Special Contributor

LAS VEGAS -- A fellow golf writer who covers course architecture recently noted that, "If you are a golf course designer, and you are not working in China right now, you are not working."

Guy Savoy
Guy Savoy's restaurant at Caesar's Palace is among the best and priciest fine dining in Las Vegas.
Guy SavoyNobu MatsuhisaWolfgang PuckJoel RobuchonEmeril Lagasse

The same might be said for celebrity chefs, who can hardly claim to be one without at least one restaurant in Las Vegas. After all, while Las Vegas is, arguably, the best fine-dining city in the entire country right now, the current gastronomic boom can be traced directly to the 1998 opening of Bellagio.

Then-owner Steve Wynn had the brilliant idea of importing known chefs like New York's Jean Georges Vongerichten and Boston's Todd English, recreating famous restaurants rather than building a reputation from scratch, and ever since, this has been business as usual in Sin City.

Las Vegas has attracted the most acclaimed chefs from major cities all over the U.S., plus as far away as China, Japan and especially Paris, greatly upping its ante for three-star Michelin chefs, representing simply the grandest and most opulent fine-dining experiences on earth.

While Michelin has not put out a Vegas guide since 2008 when it had only one three-star restaurant (still more than L.A., and one of only three U.S. cities with one), plus three two-stars and 10 one-stars (which still denotes an exceptional restaurant), it has more three-star (mostly French) chefs than any other U.S. city.

But for those not used to spending $350 or more on dinner for one, the good news is that the celebrity chefs of Vegas also have lots of casual and middle-of-the-road eateries, and virtually every visitor can try their hand at a menu prepared by someone they have seen on TV. Here is a scorecard of the city's celebrity chefs ...

Joel Robuchon

Nicknamed "the chef of the century" in France, it doesn't get any better than this. Joel Robuchon was the youngest ever to earn three stars, has more Michelin stars than anyone alive and unlike his competition, his flagship restaurant worldwide -- not a clone -- is here in Sin City, Joel Robuchon in MGM Grand.

Sure dinner will set you back about $1,000 for two with modest wines and a tip, but this is truly one of the world's greatest -- maybe the greatest -- dining experience, and it's Vegas' only three-star restaurant. He also has the less expensive but still pricey L'Atelier Joel Robuchon next door.

Todd English

One of the first to arrive with a spin-off of his Boston (and now New York) Olives, Todd English's specialty is Italian and Mediterranean but not-too-fancy food. Mere mortals can afford Olives in Bellagio.

But I love his newer Todd English PUB in the Crystals shopping center adjacent to Aria, with upscale pub food, from great burgers and wings to raw bar; lots of beers on tap; happy hour specials and excellent comfort food in a casual atmosphere.

Alain Ducasse

Second only to Joel Robuchon for Michelin stars, Alain Ducasse is best known for his gastronomic temples in Paris and Monte Carlo. Here he has the more casual but still upscale MIX in THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, a good way to try his famed cooking without breaking the bank.

Guy Savoy and Pierre Gagniare

After Robuchon and Ducasse, Guy Savoy and Pierre Gagniare are the two best known three-star chefs in Paris.

And both have upscale eateries here, among the best and priciest fine dining in the city, with Guy Savoy at Caesar's Palace and Twist by Pierre Gagniare in the Mandarin Oriental.

Nobu Matsuhisa

With one-word eponymous restaurants using both his first (Nobu) and last (Matsuhisa) names in L.A., New York, Aspen, Vail, London and throughout Asia, he is the best known Japanese chef on earth, famous for his signature rock shrimp tempura and miso black cod.

While he is becoming somewhat chain-like, both dishes and his sushi still wow, and you can try them at Nobu in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

Michael Mina

Michael Mina, the San Francisco seafood expert behind that city's Aqua, has quite a presence here in Vegas.

He has one of the best seafood restaurants in the city, SeaBlue at the MGM Grand, one of the best steakhouses, StripSteak in Mandalay Bay, and the upscale-casual Nobhill Tavern in MGM Grand, covering all the price points.

Wolfgang Puck

Credited with coining the term "celebrity chef," there is no one more famous -- or more Vegas -- than Wolfgang Puck. He preceded even the Bellagio and was the first high-profile chef to take his chances here among the buffets when he opened a branch of his flagship LA Spago in Caesar's Palace.

Today he is everywhere: a fancy steakhouse, CUT, in the Palazzo; upscale Chinese at Chinois in Caesar's; fancy and moderate Italian at Postrio in the Venetian and Lupo in Mandalay Bay, respectively; the casual but very solid Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill in MGM Grand; and his latest, Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria and Cucina, a very reasonable Italian and wood-fired pizza place in Crystals at City Center.

Jean-Georges Vongerichten

His flagship Jean-Georges may be the best fancy restaurant in NYC, but Jean-Georges Vongerichten's spin-offs both in and out of New York have been decidedly hit or miss. In Vegas he plays it safe with an upscale steakhouse concept, Prime, at Bellagio, hard to do wrong.

Emeril Lagasse

One of the best known chefs on earth, Emeril Lagasse covers various price-points here with a branch of his fanciest New Orleans eatery, Delmonico, in the Venetian; his very good and not as pricey Emeril's New Orleans Fish House in MGM Grand; and the more casual and very New Orleans-inspired Table 10 at Palazzo.

His newest, Lagasse's Stadium in Palazzo, is an upscale sports bar meets gastro-pub concept that is immediately being acclaimed as one of the best bars -- and hardest tables to get -- in the city.

Other notables include "Two Hot Tamales" stars Mary Sue Miliken and Susan Feniger's casual Border Grill (Mandalay Bay); New York's Gramercy Tavern and Craft chef Tom Collichio's excellent Craftsteak (MGM); and Julian Serrano, of San Francisco's Spanish Masa fame, with his exquisite namesake eatery at Aria.

Larry OlmstedLarry Olmsted, Special Contributor

Larry Olmsted has written more than 1,000 articles on golf and golf travel, for the likes of Golf Magazine, T&L Golf, LINKS, Golf & Travel, Men's Health, Men's Journal, USA Today, and many others. He broke the Guinness World Record for golf travel and wrote Getting into Guinness, as well as Golf Travel by Design. He was the founding editor of The Golf Insider, and the golf columnist for both USA Today.com and US Airways Magazine. Follow Larry on Twitter at @TravelFoodGuy.


 
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