LAS VEGAS -- First, there was a mob scene, literally. Then the Rat Pack moved in and crooned to the smoke and whiskey crowd. Next it became a mecca for families and catered to the kiddies. And no matter what the prevailing style, there was the omnipresent cheapo buffet, where one could consume one's own body weight for a few dollars. Now, Las Vegas has been reincarnated again, as lady luxury, and master chefs, seasoned restaurateurs, and foodies are beating a path here for great taste sensations.
For example, I ordinarily wouldn't go to a restaurant based on which Hollywood personalities had eaten there recently, but in this case, Matt Damon and Lisa Marie Presley know their comestibles. Sensi, at Bellagio, is a new Strip sensation, and with its sheer beauty and impeccable cuisine, it deserves all the plaudits.
The ultrachic stone and granite restaurant boasts four cuisines (Asian, Italian, seafood, and American grill), and diners can get up close at the exhibition counter to watch the chefs at work or sit at the chef's special table where off-menu items are served.
It's cruel to mention too many delicacies if you can't get to Vegas this weekend, so I'll just name a few. The bento box includes ricotta gnocchi in chunky tomato sauce, Chilean sea bass, marinated chicken thigh with chili sauce, and cashew confit in a lettuce wrap. The wonton soup is served in two parts. First, the fresh ingredients are placed in your bowl, then the broth is poured over them.
The signature drink at Sensi is the Black Crush cocktail (raspberry-infused vodka and fresh blackberries), and a few appetizers would make a satisfying meal.
3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South. 877-234-6358. Daily, lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner 5:30-10:30. Chef's five-course off-menu tasting dinners start at $75.Also inside Bellagio is a shop opened by French pastry chef Jean-Philippe Maury. His Jean-Philippe Pâtisserie has a cake station, a crepe section, rows of sumptuous pastries (even a few that are sugar-free), exotic coffees and teas, take-home boxes of designer chocolate, and, food pyramid be damned, 16 flavors of rich, thick gelato. While you eat, you can gaze at the world's tallest liquid chocolate fountain, which flows in a glass tower.
3600 Las Vegas Blvd. South. 702-693-8788. Sunday-Thursday 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday till midnight. Pastries $5.50-$6.
If the name Alain Ducasse makes your heart flutter, head to the famed French chef's latest endeavor, Mix, on the 43d floor of THEhotel at Mandalay Bay. If Stanley Kubrick had designed a restaurant, this would be it. The futuristic decor includes rounded, semi-enclosed dining booths called ''pods" and a three-story chandelier made of 14,482 bubbles of clear blown glass from Murano, Italy. The views from the panoramic windows extend to infinity. The wine room boasts an extravagant 12,000 bottles. The meals begin with ketchup and bacon bread and progress to appetizers like corn soup cappuccino. The lobster is served in curry and one of the waiters whispered that no one should leave without trying the cheesecake sorbet.
3950 Las Vegas Blvd. 702-632-9500. Daily 6-11 p.m. Special tasting menus start at $95.
For an elegant bistro meal, Napa's legendary Thomas Keller has followed his successes at The French Laundry and Bouchon in Yountville, Calif., with a new Bouchon at the Venezia tower. The atmosphere is casual, upbeat, and friendly, without a hint of pretension. Fresh bread is heaped directly on the table (there is no bread basket), hot pistachios start the meal, and the menu is printed on butcher paper. The food is wonderful, or, as the Frenchman at the table next to me put it, merveilleux. The leg of lamb is roasted to perfection, braised pork is crispy outside and tender inside, and brined, marinated roast chicken doesn't get more flavorful than this.
3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South. 702-414-6200. Breakfast 6:30-10:30 a.m., lunch Saturday-Sunday 11 a.m.-2 p.m., dinners daily 5-10:30 p.m. Average dinner for two with salad, entree, dessert, and coffee $100. The man credited with starting the celebrity chef boom here is Wolfgang Puck, and he just added another notch to his belt of successful eateries. With iconoclastic panache, he opened his Bar & Grill right off the casino floor in the MGM Grand. Wood oven-roasted mushroom pizzas come flying out of the kitchen and the designer crab cakes floating on basil aioli are crowd-pleasers as well. The menu offers plenty of soups, sandwiches, pizzas, grilled panini, pastas, and grilled and sauteed foods.
3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South. 702-891-3000. Sunday to Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., till 11:30 on Friday and Saturday. Lunch $18-22, dinner $28-38 with beverage.Repeat visitors to the plush Four Seasons Hotel will find that the casual Verandah restaurant has been totally remodeled and can now be described as serenely elegant. Black napkins are used to keep lint off dark clothes. The gazpacho is tricolored, the big, chunky crab cakes are perfectly crusty outside and soft inside. And the signature foie gras jelly doughnut wins first place for the most unusual appetizer on the Strip.
3960 Las Vegas Blvd. South. 702-632-5000. Leisurely dinner for two including cocktails and wine, $100.
New York's fabled Carnegie Deli has opened a branch at the Mirage. In the kitchen are oceans of matzo ball soup and mountains of chopped liver. The pickles and meat are all brined and imported from the Big Apple. For anyone who loves deli and craves pastrami, corned beef, cheese blintzes, cheesecake, and other noshes, this is the place. Regular sandwiches contain a pound of meat, and the Woody Allen sometimes hits two pounds. Leftovers can be stored in a hotel minibar and eaten for breakfast.
3400 Las Vegas Blvd. 702-791-7310. Daily 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Items $12-$22.
If you are a Japan fan, head to the upscale area of Summerlin, half an hour west of the Strip. At the JW Marriot resort and spa is a first-rate new Japanese steakhouse called Shizen that serves up relaxation, calm, and exquisite sushi. Try the Caterpillar (eel, cucumber, and avocado) or the Hawaiian (tuna, avocado, mango, and cucumber), or the Volcano Roll (shrimp and chili sauce). Shizen also specializes in teppanyaki, or tabletop cooking that the chef prepares while he performs juggling tricks and balancing acts. The sakes are as excellent as the efficient and friendly service.
221 North Rampart Blvd. 702-869-7900. Dinner only: Friday and Saturday 5-11 p.m., Sunday-Thursday till 10. Sushi rolls, 4-8 pieces, $5-$16.Beef lovers were thrilled when the steakhouse at the extravagant new Wynn opened, but now they are sighing because it's almost always full. Here is a great, meaty secret: Directly across the street, on the third floor of Fashion Show Mall, is one of the best steakhouses in Sin City. The Capital Grille has 22 restaurants across the country (including Boston), and this one is open and airy with a great view, white tablecloths, serenity, and seafood (specialties include lobster-laced crab cakes), soups, salads, and poultry dishes to supplement their fine filets.
3200 Las Vegas Blvd. South. 702-932-6631. Steak entrees $21-$38. Lunch Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday noon-3; dinner Monday-Saturday 5-11, Sunday 4-10.
Contact Judith Fein, a freelance writer in New Mexico, at firstname.lastname@example.org.