A more robust economy brought plenty of good news to the Southern Nevada dining community in 2017 in openings, expansions and guest-chef appearances. The news wasn’t all positive; downtown Las Vegas saw quite a bit of turnover, with several of the restaurants that opened in a wave a few years ago closing their doors. For the first time in decades, home-grown celebrity chef Andre Rochat was left with just one restaurant, the southwest-valley Andre’s Bistro & Bar. As the year ended, however, another set of openings were announced, with more celebrity chefs scheduled to make their local entrances due to Station Casinos’ acquisition and re-tooling of the Palms’ restaurant collection.
1. Casino dining re-boots
The year started with big changes at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas with the openings of Momofuku, Zuma and Blue Ribbon. But as 2017 wound down, the massive changes underway at Monte Carlo (soon to be Park MGM and NoMad) and The Palms were the most buzzed-about casino dining stories. The two properties almost certainly will host the hottest reservations of 2018.
2. Landmarks in transition
The retooling of the restaurants collection at the Palms spelled the end of the road for the rooftop Alize, which opened with the property in 2001, and will serve its last dinner service tonight. This year also brought the news that Spago, which opened in 1992 at the Forum Shops at Caesars, will decamp next year for Bellagio, with an opening expected in the spring.
3. Quality comes home
The bleedover of top-drawer restaurants from the Strip to neighborhoods that was halted by the Great Recession was back in play last year with the openings of Sparrow + Wolf in Chinatown, The Black Sheep in the southwest valley and Boteco in the southeast.
4. A tumultuous year downtown
Downtown saw big closures in 2017 from favorites such as Chow, Glutton and Zydeco Po-Boys. But it also saw important openings, including 7th & Carson and Two Bald brothers, which opened in the latter two spaces, plus second locations for Flock and Fowl and Atomic Kitchen.
5. Downtown the new pizza capital?
How do you improve on the award-winning creations of nationally renowned Pizza Rock, the hip street pizzas of late 2016 addition Evel Pie, and the amazing slices of Fremont Street anchor Pop Up Pizza, all in a few city blocks? With the addition of the Buffalo, NY-style creations of local heroes Naked City at their new El Cortez location, plus the news that former Evel Pie pizza maker Vincent Rotolo will soon be offering “grandma” style pies in Pawn Plaza.
6. Celebrity chefs expanding
Gordon Ramsay announced his fifth Las Vegas restaurant, Hell’s Kitchen, which will open at Caesars Palace shortly after the new year. And while Mario Batali has stepped away from the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, the company’s Eataly is on schedule to open in the former Monte Carlo late next year.
7. Guest chefs on The Strip
From Emeril to Shawn McClain to Roy Ellamar, plenty of Strip chefs have been inviting friends and colleagues into their kitchens for special events, for one night or several. A few bartenders and mixologists also have been joining in the fun.
8. Shopping-center rebirth
The Gramercy took forever to rebound after the recession put it on hold. Tivoli Village was long seen as the kiss of death for restaurants, with the exception of Echo & Rig. But over the past year, both have ended up with respectable dining programs that make them worth repeat visits.
9. The rise of bread
No longer a basket-on-the-table afterthought, bread moved to center stage with hearth-baked selections at Sparrow + Wolf, 7th & Carson and numerous artisanal choices at other places. You’ll have to pay at many of these spots, but the quality and spreads justify the price.
10. Spreads and dips
It was almost a natural progression from the toast trend of a few years ago. But today, creative spreads and dips, served alongside all sorts of breads and chips, are more prevalent in upscale restaurants. Some menus even dedicate an entire section to the concept.
Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com and Al Mancini at AMancini@reviewjournal.com.