Given the great act of transformation in Aureole's kitchen, I had high hopes for Lutèce—another New York clone, this one at the Venetian hotel. During my visit in March it felt like a rehearsal in progress: the Riesling was warm, the roasted-vegetable-and-goat-cheese napoleon almost frozen. The room seemed pretty chilly as well: austerely black and white, and hung with a strange tubular artwork that looked as if it had been hacked off from the Guggenheim.
Some of the chef's ideas were puzzling, too. Why bring out the bitter notes in foie gras by pairing it with acidic blood orange?Or drown the natural sweetness of lobster in a cloying grape-and-port compote?But then there were flashes of brilliant simplicity: silky slices of smoked black cod and a tangle of crisp arugula leaves accented with white truffle oil; a warm potato-and-crab salad fit for a picnic of angels. When Lutèce hits its stride, this will be one to bet on.
It's 2 p.m. at the Venetian Hotel. You've gawked at the Campanile and glided in a gondola down the Grand Canal. Time for lunch at Postrio, the latest Wolfgang Puck offshoot, whose "sidewalk" terrace faces the action on an indoor St. Mark's Square. The ogling crowds, the greedy gondolier: this could almost be Venice, except you'd never find a Postrio on the real Piazza San Marco. Such emphatically cordial service, such beautiful Gorgonzola-and-artichoke pizza. And the awesome lobster club sandwich, on terrific grilled bread from La Brea Bakery, makes up for all the dry, overpriced panini you've swallowed by the true Grand Canal.
Lunch at Bellagio's Osteria del Circo restores all the good memories of eating in Italy: platters of sparkling frutti di mare; eggy pappardelle in a rich pheasant ragù; and generous slices of tuna carpaccio, seared and spiced around the edges, scattered with capers and sun-dried tomatoes. Located next to the exquisite, silk-draped Le Cirque—both are run by Sirio Maccioni's son Mario—Circo is a big, bright, expensive toy of a place, as entertaining as Barnum & Bailey but as sophisticated as Cirque du Soleil.
Now to the Far East. Taiwanese and Hong Kong high rollers need to be fed, and fed well, so the battle for good Chinese chefs in this town is as fierce as a professional game of mah-jongg. The cool, celadon-hued Royal Star at the Venetian—from L.A. restaurateur Kevin Wu—is one of the latest attractions. Private banquet rooms, a tank full of live fish, shrimp steamed in lotus leaves, and a whole deep-fried fish in pricey X.O. sauce from Hong Kong will please the Asian gambling tycoons. But it's the heavenly dim sum at lunchtime that should tear you away from the slots.
So you're seeing EFX—oh, you must see EFX at the MGM Grand. Neyla, the new Middle Eastern beauty in town, is perfect for a post-theater nibble. With its arcade of Moorish arches and water trickling down walls of backlighted frosted glass, the design (by Adam Tihany, once again) evokes both a New Age spa and a postmodern caravansary. Graze on the fabulously authentic mezes, smoke a hookah, chat with the affable Lebanese manager. Here's your magic carpet—why wait for Aladdin?
With China Grill, designer Jeffrey Beers delivered one of the swankiest spaces in Vegas to the Mandalay Bay. You could eat in the main restaurant, which resembles a Chinese flying saucer, but the Alice in Spaceland lounge is more fun. The food—crusted, sizzled, swizzled, completely overembellished, and pretty delicious—reminds you why fusion was once so entertaining. Order a "sake-tini" with those ginger lobster pancakes.
Compared with other new hotels, the Paris puts on a rather tame food show (a branch of Gaston Lenôtre's legendary Parisian bakery notwithstanding). Still, if you're lucky in love, there's nothing like cocktails in the panoramic lounge of the Eiffel Tower restaurant. Sitting in a neo-Empire basket suspended in the metalwork of the Eiffel Tower—dazzling neon staring you right in the face—you feel so starstruck, you don't even notice the caviar sampler.
Aqua Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/693-7223; dinner for two $115.
Aureole Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/632-7777; dinner for two $150.
China Grill Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/632-6900; appetizers for two $35.
Eiffel Tower Restaurant & Lounge Paris Hotel, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/948-6937; appetizers for two $40.
Le Cirque Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/693-8100; dinner for two $200.
Lutèce The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/414-2220; dinner for two $130.
Neyla MGM Grand Hotel/Casino, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/736-2100; meze assortment for two $39.
Nobu Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, 4455 Paradise Rd.; 702/693-5090; dinner for two $80; omakase menu from $70 per person.
Osteria del Circo Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/693-8150; lunch for two $70.
Picasso Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/693-7223; dinner for two $150.
Postrio The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/796-1110; lunch for two $60.
Renoir The Mirage, 3400 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/791-7353; dinner for two $140.
Royal Star The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/414 1888; dim sum for two $25.