Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of blog posts by Dave Eckert about Las Vegas.
I’m not exactly breaking any ground here, but Las Vegas is a great restaurant city, one of the best in the country.
The days of the $1.99 shrimp cocktail and $9.99 all-you-can-eat buffet are long gone, replaced by multi-course celebrity chef tasting menus, over-the-top steak houses and just about any up-scale ethnic fare you have a hankering for.
“There are more than 1,000 restaurants in Las Vegas with 400 just in the resort corridor,” said Courtney Fitzgerald, Merriam native, Shawnee Mission North and Missouri State graduate and the brand manager for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Association. “Research has said visitors to Las Vegas annually spend $3.5 billion on food and beverage!”
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Happy to be a part of those numbers, I set out to experience three restaurants on my first full day in Las Vegas. I made reservations for breakfast at The Sugar Factory in Paris, lunch at Trevi in Caesar’s Palace and dinner at Crush in the MGM Grand. I’m going to throw in my next day’s lunch at Five50 too only because I don’t know where else to put it and because it was a big part of my days of decadence on The Strip.
Don’t try this at home kids. I’m a food professional.
Even I may have bitten off more than I can chew following a six-course meal the night before at the incomparable Joel Robuchon, which, by the way was preceded by appetizers at the standout Mexican restaurant Hecho. But what the heck, I don’t get to Vegas very often nor do I get to dine like this ever.
So away I went, up the strip from my digs at the MGM Grand to the Paris Hotel Casino and Resort and The Sugar Factory.
The Sugar Factory American Brasserie is a huge space, 30,000 square-feet, offering what it calls “both sweet and savory American culinary favorites.”
I’d call The Sugar Factory a three-meal-a-day restaurant, and that’s selling it way short. The Sugar Factory is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it also boasts that it’s “Always Open!” serving up endless decadent desserts 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Sugar Factory’s menu was created by executive chef Matthew Piekarski. It hits all the right notes, from Eggs Benedict to pizza, pasta, steaks and seafood. As mentioned, I was there for breakfast and I had already scoped out the menu online and made my decision: steak and eggs — medium rare and sunnyside up — hash browns and white toast.
This is a go to order for me the few times a year I actually eat breakfast, but this version was perfectly executed. The steak was red — not pink — in the middle and juicy. The eggs were not over- nor undercooked. The hash browns were crispy — I hate soggy hash browns — and the toast was, well, toasty.
I’m only sorry I didn’t have room for dessert as they sounded and looked amazing But, hey, I had lunch coming up in four short hours.
I mentioned that the room is huge, but I should also mention beyond the main dining room is perhaps the best patio in all of Las Vegas, right across the street from the Bellagio and its famous fountains. The Sugar Factory American Brasserie — I will be back.
A lot can happen in Las Vegas in four hours. Fortunes can be won, but more likely, fortunes can be lost. Neither happened for me in between lunch and dinner. No, it was just a matter of walking the strip in an effort to walk off breakfast and work up an appetite for what I need would be a substantial lunch at Trevi in the Forum Shops at Caesar’s.
Located next to the “Fountain of the Gods,” Trevi serves up homemade Italian cuisine — pasta, chicken and veal — in large portions.
I sat outside in Trevi’s outdoor patio cafe, which is an oxymoron, I guess, since it’s outside the restaurant but inside the Forum Shops. Anyway, I can’t say I was terribly hungry but I did my best.
The beef Carpaccio grabbed my attention first. But, I’ve been burned by gloppy, uninteresting domestic versions of this Italian classic in the past, so I was reluctant to pull the trigger. However, the manager assured me Trevi’s Carpaccio was excellent, so I ordered it. I’m glad I did. It was one of the best domestic versions I’ve had.
My lunch companion skipped the warm-up and went straight to work on a Lasagna Pizza, a Trevi specialty. The Lasagna Pizza is not for the faint of heart. About the same weight as a Lou Malnati’s deep dish from my hometown of Chicago with the ingredients and flavors of lasagna, one slice — maybe two — and you are done.
I opted for the wild boar (Cinghiale) pappardelle. I have to admit I didn’t make much of a dent in this delicious dish, but the few bites I managed were awfully tasty.
Named after Rome’s famous Trevi Fountain and run by the Morton Restaurant Group out of Chicago, I’d recommend Trevi highly, but would also recommend you bring a larger appetite than I did. I guess I’ll have to come back.
The best news about the meal at Trevi is that I now had at least six hours before my next meal.
Staying in the Morton’s family, that meal would be dinner, a six-course chef’s tasting menu at Crush Eat Drink Love at the MGM Grand. Crush is one of several Vegas eateries owned and operated by Michael Morton and his wife, Jenna, who stopped by our table to say hello — a nice touch.
Although the tasting menu robbed me of the opportunity to try either the 32-ounce braised short rib or the 28-ounce tomahawk rib-eye steak, the diversity and deliciousness of the menu more than made up for it.
From start to finish we were served the following: octopus ceviche, ricotta gnocchi, a sea scallop Benny, grilled salmon, lamb sirloin and dessert — don’t ask, I can’t remember.
The octopus ceviche and lamb sirloin were my favorites, but honestly, each course was outstanding. Perhaps the surprise of the night was how well the salmon, served with oyster mushrooms in a carrot miso broth, went with the ’89 Duhart-Milon Bordeaux I had brought from my cellar. I thought the Duhart-Milon would overpower the salmon. Far from it. The match was seamless.
I asked about the concept of Crush as I couldn’t really find a culinary theme. Turns out, that’s the point. The Mortons had traveled the world. They wanted to bring their favorites from all over and put them under one roof.
Skipping breakfast the following day, I actually had a bit of an appetite for my final restaurant visit on The Strip — Five50 Pizza Bar in Aria. Run by Shawn McClain, another Chicagoan doing great things in Vegas, this was some of the best pizza and cured meats I’ve had outside of Italy.
I started with chef’s selection of six meats and cheeses, three each: mortadella, sopressata and prosciutto for the meat and oma (cow milk), angel food (goat milk) and San Andreas (sheep milk) for the cheese.
This was a miscalculation on my part as I had room for only a slice or two once my Gotham pizza arrived. The Gotham features pepperoni, sausage, salami, mozzarella and grana padano. I had them throw on some on mushrooms for good measure. It’s one of eight specialty pizzas diners and, of course, you can always build your own.
It’s not inexpensive, but then, this isn’t Papa John’s either. Five50 is named for the temperature at which they cook their pizzas. Sounds and tastes, good to me.
And that, my friends, is how I ate my way through the strip in a day and a half and lived to write about it. And, I’m not done with this city yet.
Up next, I’m checking out of The Strip and heading downtown,. I haven’t been to downtown Vegas in years. I’m sure I’ll find plenty to write about.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.