My week in Vegas: Trotter & Burke out, McClain in

March 20, 2010

Charlie Trotter I'm glad I didn't have a reservation at Restaurant Charlie when I was in town last weekend. As I retweeted a post from Las Vegas Food Critic John Curtas, Charlie Trotter (pictured) decided to close his eponymous restaurant at the Palazzo Thursday night, after just two years of operation.

"We just no longer had the traffic to justify the offering in the Palazzo property," Rochelle Smith Trotter, Mr. Trotter's wife and publicist told Crain's ChicagoBusiness. "It was really a function of, can we sustain it and how long can we sustain it for?"

It didn't help to go into Vegas at the beginning of a recession, but the restaurant's location beneath an escalator in a fancy shopping mall didn't help either. Oddly enough, David Burke closed his namesake restaurant on the same day in the adjacent Venetian. "There were just too many high-end restaurants opening in Vegas at the same time," Curtas said. "This closing is no surprise to me."

It's been an odd couple of years for Trotter's brand. The casual observer sees nothing but a series of projects either stopped before even opening (London, New York's Time Warner Center, The Elysian Hotel in Chicago) or closed after a short run (MGM Casino, Palazzo, Palmilla in Los Cabos). I also know of three colleagues who have begun book projects with Trotter in recent years, only to be told unceremoniously midway through the job that the chef has decided to go in a different direction, thank you very much. Adding insult to injury, last year was the first time the Chicago restaurateur did not make the top "50 Best Restaurants in the World" list, joining Gordon Ramsay on the outside. He did manage to get his branded "T" on the Business and First Class menus for United Airlines' international routes - not exactly the best expression of gourmet cuisine - and he's slated to open a restaurant inside the One Madison Park Hotel in New York City this year. I have a feeling the only people holding their breath are the investors.

Some other thoughts and impressions from Vegas this week:


Fountains brunch at Jasmine at the Bellagio

The Fountains Brunch at Jasmine, inside The Bellagio is better than I thought it would be. I first walked by "The Buffet," where people were waiting literally an hour for a crack at an all-you-can-eat blowout. Personally, the Fountains is a much better proposition. More relaxed, a little calmer and a definite Asian vibe keeps it interesting. In addition to the buffet line of sushi, delicate seafood amuses and vibrant salads, I chose some rice noodles with shitake mushrooms in a rich chicken broth and opted for a few Peking duck sandwiches (in the Taiwanese gua bao, rather than flimsy pancakes) sliced tableside. A few dim sum offerings and a mammoth dessert "room" were more than enough to fuel me up for the day.

Bar at Botero

 

Botero at The Encore has a gorgeous bar, and I would have been just as happy to hang out there before dinner somewhere. ‚ Dinner in the main dining room can also be dramatic - there is, afterall, an original Botero smack dab in the middle of the room, drawing your gaze from as far away as the pool, but it's mainly a steakhouse, and the menu didn't inspire as much as something from Bartolotta at the Wynn or Sage at the Aria.

Speaking of which, Chicago's Shawn McClain really loves absinthe. The drink cart at Sage (in the Aria Hotel) is loaded with rare absinthe and cocktail enthusiasts will love a classic Green Fairy - made with a slow sugar drip - tasting of fennel, anise and heat.

Sinatra dining room

 

The pastas at Sinatra in the Encore are better than I expected. Who knew agnolotti could taste this delicate, stuffed with a mild ricott The bar is also a fine place to kick back with a cocktail, if you don't mind viewing flicks starring 'Ol Blue Eyes, and hearing him on the soundtrack; I made the mistake of going for the pomegranate mojito first - better bet to try the blackberry smash.

XS is the hottest nightclub in town right now, and if you tend to tire easily, like me, best bet is to just get a room at the Encore so you can easily retire to the super-comfy beds upstairs.

The M Resort and Casino is a mild schlep from The Strip - about 11 miles South - but it's oddly satisfying in its remoteness. The pool looks sleek and the interior is a combination of James Bond cool and compact simplicity. It doesn't take 20 minutes to walk from the lobby to the restaurants, as it does in most of the other mega-hotels. One of the more interesting things about the M is its subterranean wine bar, the Hostile Grape, where you can buy a card, then use it to try small samples of wine from more than a hundred bottles hooked up to Enomatic dispensers. While the buffet at M didn't get me that excited, one of the highlights was taking in a culinary "show." The only one of its kind as far as I can tell. 


Tina Martini on stage

Chef Tina Martini (yes, that's her real name), is a former Macy's Culinary teacher, and performs three shows each day. Held in a high-tech Culinary Studio, Martini has boundless energy, and peppers her 45 min. demonstrations with healthy facts, cooking technique and humor. Guests get to nibble on whatever she's making that day (the menus rotate weekly) and there's always time at the end for questions. The shows are always part of a dining package, which includes the buffet. They wisely offer the class first, then the eating right afterward. I'm not sure I would make a special trip out to see this show, but if I were staying at the M, as a lot of Southern Californians and locals do, I would certainly take in a show. Her folksy manner is both casual and contagious, and she knows her audience well. 


The Culinary Studio at M