Subtle and understated are not words you would use to describe Vegas, but far from the tacky impression some have of the America's gambling playground, if you scratch beneath the surface there are some real gems to be found. More accurate words are "biggest" and "best".
The sheer scale of the place is astounding. The Bellagio, where we stayed, has almost 4000 rooms and an eight-acre dancing fountain lake out front. Beat that, the rest of the world!
With over 2000 restaurants to choose from in Vegas, we needed some help navigating our way around. But luckily we had access to Expedia Insider Xania Woodman, an 11-year Vegas veteran and senior editor at Seven magazine to show us what was where.
First up we had a whistle stop tour of some of the restaurants at The Cosmopolitan, one of the strip's newest casino complexes.
Wicked Spoon Buffet
Vegas is famous for its buffets, but while many pile high the kind of reheated stodge you might expect, Wicked Spoon has reinvented the genre. It specialises in a tapas buffet style that mixes gourmet eating with self service for the more discerning diners. And it's a winning formula as the queue stretching down the wall of the restaurant proved. For $35 a head for dinner, you can choose from a range of delicately prepared specialities — things to look out for are the goat's cheese ravioli, which Xania informed us is so good that people blog about it (it didn't disappoint), the shrimp and the chocolate marshmallow dessert. The carvery was impressive and although it's not usually to our taste, we just couldn't resist the bone marrow. If you want to feel like Fred Flintstone, this is the dish for you. You should probably book an appointment with your cardiologist first though as this is a meaty heart attack in half a bone.
This French restaurant has more of a gastro pub feel than a posh brasserie and its relaxed atmosphere is a hit with locals and bartenders after their shifts. It's a meat-eaters favourite, with specials including Offal Wednesday (not for the fainthearted) and Beef Wellington Sunday. It also has one of the best views of the strip from its terrace. The subdued lighting and friendly staff make this a safe environment to go crazy when it comes to trying new things – like cow's testicles. Executive chef Brian Howard is a foraging enthusiast and is known for searching out more obscure meats. We sampled the steak tartare with confit egg yolk, home made pickles and crostinis, which was delicious even for those wary of uncooked steak. Other highlights of the menu include the roasted beef marrow with oxtail jam, the lobster thermidor with cognac, piquillo pepper and the dreamiest mash we've ever tasted. Their cocktails are superb too, including the Penicillin (scotch, fresh lemon, ginger and honey), which has a nostalgic medicinal taste (not to mention medicinal quantities of spirits).
Also in the Cosmopolitan, this Chinese Mexican restaurant (yes, you read that right) was one of the most fun stops on our tour. A noodle and taco bar, the Chinese and Mexican chefs produce dishes that are complementary rather than fusing the two cuisines. There used to be a lot of trade between China and Mexico which has left many similarities between the spices and flavourings of the two countries. The decor was funky with huge changing portraits of Chairman Mao and various revolutionary leaders. And there are bike wheels on the ceiling. The seating is relaxed with groups sliding onto long benches. To start we had suckling pig, barbecue pork and langosta tacos, which were delicious. Also on the menu were Golden Pigs buns with condensed milk, 20 vegetable fried rice and melt-in-the-mouth sui mai dumplings topped with gold leaf. The food was washed down with margaritas topped with salt foam and Singapore slings. For dessert we were treated to a chocolate terracotta warrior filled with milk chocolate on a bed of cookie crumbs and sesame known as "dirt". The guest of honour gets to bash the warrior to pieces with a spoon.
For those taking a break from the nearby Marquee Club (sister to the one at Sydney's Star casino) is "hidden pizza" or the pizzeria. The pizza is so good that the place doesn't even need a proper name. For those not minding the repercussions on their breath, the white slice pizza is the speciality, covered in garlic and perfect for repelling vampires. It's a New York style pizza with a crisp base and slices are made to order from the selection of fresh ingredients on hand.
For pure indulgence, why not try Michael Mina on the ground level of the Bellagio. If you could think of a slap up dinner, you would probably pick what is on this menu. Russian caviar served with chilled Belvedere vodka, tuna tartare, lobster and fennel tortellini, fois gras, the house speciality lobster pot pie.
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