Spent a week in Vegas earlier this month. In classic stick-in-the-mud form, I spent that time shuttling between a Root Cause Analysis course in the Flamingo conference center and my hotel room in the Westin, catching up on work and attending 5AM conference calls.
I did manage to do a little wide eyed tourist browsing (particularly impressed with the attention to detail at Paris), and a little fancy-dancy eating. Between Ceasar's, Paris, and the Bellagio, here's the major rule I discovered:
The showier the waitress, the more blase the food.
Shortest skirt was at Yellow Tail, the sushi place at the Bellagio. Even before the outrageous price per piece ($60 for 12-piece chef's selection), this was some of the sloppiest, most tasteless sushi I've eaten.
Next up, Le Burger Brasserie, featuring Le Waffle Fries. This was a not-bad tourist burger positively shellacked with a French sheen. $19 gets you a burger. For a side of the afore mentioned extra-french french fries, another $4.
On the third night, I made it over to Ceasar's, and found Mesa Grill. My waitress was a perfectly normal person, wearing actual pants. And it was - by far - the best meal I had on the trip. It's a beautiful space (as they all are), but unlike the other two, the minute you walk in, it's clear that it's run as a restaurant. Service was impeccable and crisp. I had a glass of California Syrah that was to die for (custom label for Mesa).
The best thing I ate here, and the best thing I ate on the trip, was a Gala Apple Salad. Primarily this is perfectly crisp chilled cubes of apple, with a few leaves of baby spinach, candied pecans and blue cheese in a chili-orange vinaigrette. Strange combination, beautifully executed. I could have had three of these, skipped the entree, and been a very happy guy.
Slightly less impressive, but still tasty was the Pork Tenderloin. Portioned for two, maybe three large people, this was delicately cooked tenderloin in a mild mole sauce. On the side, which was the best thing on the plate, was a sweet potato tamale. The mole was a bit on the bland side, though beautifully presented, but the tamale was heavenly.
All that being said, Vegas was truly a ball. Just walking down the strip is an education of what the human race can build given the raw ambition, unconstrained by anything. Eating mediocre there is still a good time. But through all the overscaled hugeness of the place, the food there is a subtle reminder that good food is made one plate at a time, by people who know what they're doing, regardless of the glitz around them.