Two dining trends that started gradually in Las Vegas during the past couple of years picked up speed in 2013.
The flood of celebrated chefs washing into the valley that had slowed to a trickle — probably a factor of saturation as much as the lingering effects of the protracted economic recession — dwindled to but a couple of drops last year, both of them reflective of our collective appetite for culinary TV.
Gordon Ramsay, an established, respected chef who became a household name thanks to his expletive-deleted TV shows including “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Kitchen Nightmares,” expanded his empire to three restaurants on the Strip, opening at Caesars Palace and Planet Hollywood in the waning days of 2012 to join Gordon Ramsay Steak at Paris Las Vegas, which had its debut earlier that year. And Buddy V’s, from TLC “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro, opened in the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian, focusing on, instead of cakes, the Italian cuisine of Valastro’s heritage.
A second trend — also blamed on the poor economy — was celebrated chefs opening casual, downmarket restaurants either in place of or in addition to their upscale local spots. These included Rick Moonen, who introduced his apothecary-and-steampunk-themed Rx Boiler Room at Mandalay Place to supplant the upstairs fine-dining half of his two-story RM Seafood.
In a July interview, Moonen said he didn’t think the trend was a death knell for fine dining locally.
“There’s always going to be a need for fine dining,” he said then.
“In Las Vegas,” he added, “I think fine dining is more than covered by the three-star Michelin French chefs,” who include Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand, Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace, Alain Ducasse at Mandalay Bay and Pierre Gagnaire at the Mandarin Oriental.
Shawn McClain, who maintained his Sage at Aria but added Fifty50 Pizza Bar there last summer, agreed that a shift to the casual was very much in the works.
“The market is changing,” he said in July. “Fine dining will always exist, but there’s always ebbs and flows. The market’s going to follow those trends. Since the downturn in the economy three, four years ago, the trend is toward more casual dining.”
Others who joined the casual trend last year were Michael Mina, who closed Nobhill Tavern at MGM Grand and opened Michael Mina Pub 1842 at the same resort, and Bradley Ogden, who closed his eponymous restaurant at Caesars Palace (which made way for Ramsay’s grill and pub) and opened Hops &Harvest at Tivoli Village in northwest Las Vegas, which has since closed. (The lone celebrity chef to buck the downscale trend locally was Tom Colicchio, who maintained his Craftsteak at the MGM Grand but added Heritage Steak at The Mirage.)
Hops &Harvest wasn’t the only new restaurant at Tivoli Village last year, joining Poppy Den Asian Gastropub and joined by Echo &Rig, which pairs a butcher shop with a restaurant.
New restaurants continued to open in downtown Las Vegas, including La Comida from Michael and Jenna Morton in the Fremont East district; Pizza Rock from 11-time pizza world champion Tony Gemignani (which took the place formerly occupied by Mob Bar, re-located to across the street from the Mob Museum); Wild in the Ogden, an offshoot of the New York original that specializes in farm-to-table cuisine with an emphasis on gluten-free foods; Park on Fremont, also in the Fremont East district; and MTO, across from the new Las Vegas City Hall.
Speaking of offshoots: Settebello, a certified-genuine-Neapolitan pizzeria in Henderson, opened a location in Village Square (where it was joined, late in the year, by the reborn Viva Mercado’s) and Layers Bakery-Cafe, also in Henderson, opened a location in southwest Las Vegas.
Town Square on the south end of the Strip also saw a rebirth, as the Bonefish Grill chain, which had closed a location in Henderson a few years ago, returned to the market there. Another Sugar Factory American Brasserie also opened at Town Square, and a second valley location of Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse &Wine Bar is scheduled to open there early next year.
Dos Caminos returned to the market in the space formerly occupied by Agave at Charleston Boulevard and the Beltway, closing shortly thereafter.
The year brought its share of unwanted publicity for Las Vegas restaurants as Firefly was closed by the Southern Nevada Health District in April after it was linked to a salmonella outbreak that sickened 300 people. The original Firefly moved to a new location up the street, and the west-side and Henderson locations remain open.
Nationwide attention of a very different type had foodies focusing on Las Vegas in October, when Life Is Beautiful drew thousands downtown, and on Henderson in November, when resident Glori Spriggs won the $1 million grand prize in the Pillsbury Bake-Off. The Bake-Off, where Spriggs was one of 100 finalists, was held in Las Vegas for the first time this year, at Aria at CityCenter.
What’s ahead? Restaurants from chefs/TV personalities Guy Fiero and Giada de Laurentiis have been announced for Strip resorts owned by Caesars Entertainment. And when it opens next year, SLS Las Vegas (which is replacing the longtime landmark Sahara) will have The Bazaar by Jose Andres (who has Jaleo and China Poblano at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas) as well as Cleo from Danny Elmaleh and Umami Burger.
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at email@example.com or 702-383-0474.