Las Vegas is legendary for its round-the-clock party atmosphere and vast buffets that draw busloads of tourists, who stand in long lines to fill their plates.
Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those, but they aren’t much help for businesspeople searching their smart phones for the right restaurant to help grow relationships with important colleagues, clients, contacts or prospective business partners.
A quick Web search will show that Las Vegas has become a second home for super-star chefs from around the country. Indeed, virtually every luxury hotel has a signature-style restaurant with top-notch dining options available. With so many places from which to choose, we thought it would be helpful to have some pool and spa industry insiders offer their tips for places they think are good for entertaining small groups.
Penny Johnson, co-owner Johnson Pools & Spas Huntsville, Ala.
THE place for steak lovers
Penny Johnson of Johnson Pools & Spas immediately identified THE Steak House at Circus Circus as an on-target choice for a Las Vegas business dinner. The traditional steakhouse setting is relaxed and the service is attentive without being intrusive.
As the name suggests, this place is known for its Midwestern beef, dry-aged for 21 days and prepared on an open-hearth mesquite grill. “I have been to other places in Las Vegas that were kind of over-the-top in terms of presentation or atmosphere — places I probably wouldn’t choose for myself if I were taking a group of people out,” Johnson says. “I really enjoy THE Steak House.” (THE Steak House at Circus Circus, 2880 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas. Reservations recommended; call 702.794.3767.)
Another favorite of hers is Piero’s Las Vegas, the heart and soul of fine Italian dining. For decades, Piero’s has been a popular spot for locals, visitors, politicians and celebrities. In fact, the place is so iconic that part of the movie “Casino” was filmed there. On any given night, you might spy someone such as Jerry Lewis, Dana Carvey, Joe Pesci or Steve Lawrence enjoying the sumptuous Italian cuisine — and the opportunity to dine in peace without being bothered, which is a Piero’s tradition.
“It is probably obvious that they have good Italian food,” Johnson says. “But what really makes Piero’s stand out is the freshness of their seafood and the variety of the ways they prepare it. Their versatility means there is something for almost every diner to enjoy, in a great classic spot.” And if you get lucky and see a celebrity, you’ll have another Las Vegas story to tell. (Piero’s Las Vegas, 355 Convention Center Drive, just off Paradise Road. Reservations: 702.369.2305.)
Lew Akins, president Ocean Quest Pools by Lew Akins Belton, Texas
And yet more beef
Lew Akins also singled out two of his favorite steak houses. First up is Charley Palmer Steak at the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas, a quiet spot away from the hustle and bustle of the Strip. Here, you can set your sights on a perfect piece of well-aged beef, including a charcoal-grilled filet mignon in roasted shallot jus and a bone-in rib eye, or a Colorado rack of lamb with ratatouille tart.
“Charlie Palmer’s has great service and great atmosphere — and a wine list that will interest you if you are looking to try something different,” says Lew Akins of Ocean Quest Pools by Lew Akins. (Charley Palmer Steak at Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas, 3960 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas. Reservations can be booked online at mandalaybay.com/dining/signature-restaurants .)
Prime Steakhouse at Bellagio Las Vegas, also has great steak and a terrific wine list, he adds. It is one of the restaurants of award-winning, four-star celebrity chef and restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The steaks, seafood and lamb are paired with fabulous sauces, sides and meticulously selected wines. As Akins says, “Prime’s collection of California reds is out of this world, and this is a meal you won’t soon forget.”
The excellence of the food and wine at this establishment is perfectly matched by the quiet elegance of the décor: Prominent paintings commissioned specifically for the space, a water-themed canvas screen created by Joseph Raffael and garden patio all set the stage for a tranquil and exquisite dining experience. (Prime Steakhouse at Bellagio Las Vegas, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South. Reservations recommended; call 866.259.7111 or 702.693.8865.)
Paolo Benedetti, vice president of operations/principal designer Aquatic Technology Morgan Hill, Calif.
The price is right
For the discerning Las Vegas host, a wide variety of recommendations at different price points is offered by Paolo Benedetti of Aquatic Technologies.
At the top of the list for price, ambiance and incredible food is Robuchon at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. The visionary behind this amazing restaurant is Joël Robuchon, winner of Michelin’s Three Star, Forbes’ Five-Star, AAA Five Diamond, and Wine Spectator’s Grand Award. Add to that the fact that Joël Robuchon was named France’s Chef of the Century by the esteemed Gault Millau restaurant guide and you can believe that this is one highly sought-after table.
“If you really want to impress a knowledgeable associate or curry favor with a foodie, and your entertainment budget can take the hit, look no further than Robuchon,” Benedetti says. (Robuchon at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas. Reservations highly recommended: 702.891.7925. For groups larger than six: 702.891.7433.)
“If you want some of the best views of the Strip and great food, try MIX, at the top of THEhotel at Mandalay Bay. MIX is an affordable restaurant from acclaimed chef Alain Ducasse,” he continues. With contemporary and classic French and American fare, reflecting world tastes and including signature dishes from his restaurants in Paris and Monte Carlo, Ducasse has indeed created a good MIX of style and fine dining. (MIX in Las Vegas at THEhotel, Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas. Reservations: 702.632.9500. Online reservations available at mandalaybay.com/dining/signature-restaurants/mix.aspx .)
Rao’s at Caesars Palace Las Vegas is another one of Benedetti’s must-dine spots “This is great Old World Italian food,” he says. “I make it a point to visit here every time I come to Las Vegas.” Rao’s at Caesars Palace is the only offspring of the flagship Rao’s in New York, and the food is prepared as in New York: Simple. Honest. Italian. The kitchen uses fresh, high-quality ingredients, such as homemade roasted red peppers, freshly grated Pecorino-Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses, high quality olive oil, and certified San Marzano plum tomatoes from Italy. For more than 110 years, that’s the way the family has cooked in New York, and they say they are not about to change in Las Vegas.
As for Benedetti, he says, “This is food the way Grandma used to make it. Even better, the prices are reasonable and the service has always been superb for a restaurant of this price range.” (Rao’s at Caesars Palace Las Vegas, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas. Reservations: 877.346.4642.)
If you want regional French cuisine in a lively, old European village setting, Benedetti recommends Le Provençal at Paris Las Vegas. Among the house specialties are the Artichoke Milanese with roast garlic fondue, Le Provençal Bouillabaisse (a shellfish stew served tableside in a large, cast-iron pot) Chicken Provençal, Pan Roasted Sea Bass Filet. “This is good continental food that won’t break your budget,” he says. (Le Provençal at Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas. Reservations: 702.862.5138.)
For more casual groups, Benedetti suggests Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay — chef Hubert Keller’s palace of the gourmet burger. “It may not be cheap, but it is inexpensive for Las Vegas,” Benedetti says. Burger Bar has something for everyone with its burgers of beef, buffalo and turkey — and there are options to please any vegetarians in your party too.
“They have an enormous beer list to go with those great burgers and fries. Don’t forget to order some ranch dressing to dip the fries in,” he adds. (Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas. Phone: 702.632.9364.)
Another great casual spot is Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana in the Henderson/Green Valley area. “They have awesome five-star, wood-fired pizzas. It’s worth the cab fare!” Benedetti says. (Settebello Pizzeria Napoletana, 140 Green Valley Pkwy ... off the Green Valley Pkwy. Exit on I-215 ... Henderson, Nev. Phone: 702.222.3556.)
Joseph M. Vassallo, founder/president Paragon Pools> Las Vegas
Great views and ambiance
Our final insider is Joseph M. Vassallo of Paragon Pools. This Las Vegas local’s first pick is Beso, the restaurant owned by actress Eva Longoria. From prime beef to an assortment of fresh ceviche, Beso has a menu that will appeal to every palate — and it also has the ambiance to make your dinner a success.
Beso’s floor-to-ceiling windows showcase CityCenter’s striking architecture and provide an amazing view of the Aria fountains. “You not only get a great meal at Beso, but you also get an great show because the windows look out over Aria’s waterfeature,” Vassallo says. “It rivals the Bellagio in many ways.” (Beso at CityCenter’s Crystals, 3720 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas. Reservations: 702.254.2376.)
Celebrities and sports stars often can be spotted at N9NE Steakhouse at the Palms. It’s also one of Vassallo’s “all-time favorite Las Vegas restaurants. N9NE has a hip, young business atmosphere. “There is a bar in the center of the room that makes this a really upbeat and fun place,” Vassallo says. “They have a champagne and caviar bar, and a cold seafood plate that is incredible.”
For a more sedate dining experience, he also recommends Nove Italiano, another restaurant in the Palms, which has classic Italian fare that has been updated with contemporary touches. “The view from Nove is great: You can see the skyline from the tall windows, and the room itself has a quiet elegance that will impress your guests,” Vassallo says. The dining room features Swarovski crystal chandeliers lit with LED lights, and beautifully placed window fireboxes that add drama and flair.
What might be even better than the food and ambiance of these two Las Vegas standouts are the rest of the Palms’ amenities. According to Vassallo, “When you dine at N9NE or Nove, you are not far from the Palms’ signature watering holes, the Ghostbar and the Playboy Club. As a patron, you have a much better chance of getting straight into these hot spots.” (N9NE Steakhouse and Nove Italiano at the Palms, 4321 West Flamingo Road, Las Vegas. Reservations: N9NE, 702.933.9900; Nove, 702.942.6800, or online at palms.com/las-vegas-restaurants-dining .)