Just when it seemed that Las Vegas had as many celebrity chefs as it could handle, another arrived, and in a characteristically big way.
The year 2012 dawned with no Gordon Ramsay restaurants in Las Vegas. As it closed there were three - Gordon Ramsay Steak, which opened at Paris Las Vegas in May; Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill, which opened at Caesars Palace in late December; and BurGR, which made its debut at Planet Hollywood shortly thereafter.
At press time Ramsay was on his way to England for the holidays and unavailable for comment, but Jeffrey Frederick, regional vice president of food and beverage for the Western Division of Caesars International, said the chef had expressed an interest in a presence in Las Vegas in large part because he was a disciple of two of the culinary lions who have restaurants here, Guy Savoy and Joel Robuchon.
"I think he's had a strong desire for quite some time to be here in Vegas," Frederick said. "Through circumstances and relationships we were able to connect with Gordon. We just had a wonderful time collaborating with him. I think the time had come."
Frederick pointed out that Ramsay's places are representative of the fact that celebrity-chef restaurants in Las Vegas are no longer exclusively budget-busters, as they were in the early days. Although Gordon Ramsay Steak is on the higher end of the spectrum, BurGR is nearer the other end and Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill is designed to cater to both.
"You can now enjoy amazing cuisine at multiple price points," Frederick said.
Caesars Palace also has been credited for helping to change the restaurant game by debuting Bacchanal, its innovative buffet. Caesars representatives said they've received feedback from counterparts with other companies that showed they were paying attention.
"I don't want to mention any names," Frederick said, "but many have said, 'Wow, you guys have raised the bar.' We really caught the attention of the executives at our competitors. I think it's just going to stimulate a new rally, if you will, of everyone stepping up their buffet experience because of what Bacchanal has done."
And what has Bacchanal done? Expanded on the single-serve practices first seen at The Cosmopolitan's Wicked Spoon Buffet, and otherwise approached the buffet in a nontraditional manner that may put to rest the image of the Las Vegas groaning board.
"We have a very home-style approach," said Scott Green, Bacchanal executive chef. "The chef approach - cooking everything fresh, only as we need it."
The buffet also averages 500 items, many of which are more representative of old-school gourmet rooms than conventional buffets. For New Year's, for example, it will include lobster thermidor, lobster Rockefeller, whole roasted pigs, caviar parfaits "and things like that that you don't normally find in a buffet," Green said.
And 2012 brought another milestone, also at Caesars Palace. Spago, widely credited with launching the dining renaissance that moved Las Vegas from a landscape of bargain buffets to a dining destination, marked its 20th anniversay in December.
Off the Strip and across the valley, the fusion movement continued to grow during 2012. Bachi Burger, a local pioneer in Asian-style burgers, added a second location, and was joined by Komex Express, specializing in Korean-Mexican fusion, and Buldogi's, serving Asian-inspired hot dogs, with plans for several similar restaurants in the works.
It also was a year for openings of artisanal and elemental restaurants. Veteran local chef Chris Herrin opened Meat & Three in Henderson as a dinnertime offshoot of his breakfast-and-lunch Bread & Butter, located in the same strip shopping center. Longtime Aureole pastry chef Megan Romano opened Chocolate & Spice on West Sahara Avenue, and the husband-and-wife team of chef Kim Canteenwalla and restaurant developer Elizabeth Blau opened HoneySalt in Summerlin.
Some landmark restaurants received new life during the year, including Red Square at Mandalay Bay, which opened after a thorough refurbishing (although, rumor has it, Lenin's head still is missing).
And the elephant burial mound that is the Tre/Hannah's/Seastone building in Boca Park has claimed yet another victim, the most recently departed Hotel California/Baja California. This latest venture to die on the vine had a midlife name change in an effort to avoid confusion with the California downtown, which wasn't enough to save it. Since the most recent occupants reportedly went into the venture with their eyes open - even having a shaman burn sage in a witty effort to reverse the curse - it appears more drastic measures may be needed to ensure success at that location.
What's ahead for 2013? Well, whether it's a reflection of the revenue that bachelorette parties bring to the city or the role of women as budgetary decision-makers, there will be at least two female-focused restaurants in town next year: Eva Longoria's She, a steakhouse geared to women that's scheduled to open New Year's Eve in the former location of her Beso in Crystals at CityCenter, and Xishi, named after one of the four legendary women of ancient China, expected to open at the Palms in the early part of the year.
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@review journal.com or 702-383-0474.