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Apr 4, 2008 11:13 AM

Las Vegas Dining Dilemma


I am heading to Las Vegas at the end of the month with my brother and father and I am having trouble deciding on the diner reservation for our first night. Currently, the line up is as follows:

1. Carnevino or Guy Savoy
2. Alex
3. Bartolotta

On my previous trip to LV for two nights, I ate at B&B Ristorante and L'Atelier. Although I did not encounter the same oversalting issue that is apparent in many of the other posts about B&B, I thought the food was good but not great. I live in the Bay Area and consider the pasta dishes served by Michael Tusk at Quince superior to the offerings at B&B. While each dish was very appealing conceptually, the execution lacked a certain discipline and care that one would expect from a restaurant of this caliber. The wine list was very interesting (although marked up a bit high in my opinion) and the atmosphere was a welcome respite for the hustle and bustle of the casino. Based on this experience and the few posts regarding Carnevino, my concern is that the same execution issues exist at Carnevino. When you couple this issue with the prices that they are charging, I am not sure this is a good bet.

As for Guy Savoy, Frank Bruni's recent review in the New York Times as well as several posts on this site as well as other blogs have made me reconsider this option as well. Since I will be dining at Alex the following night, I would need more persuading that the experience at Guy Savoy is so different and worthwhile that the price tag is justified. As someone you had the good fortune to experience a 21 course diner at the French Laundry recently (I went with a regular), the $290 price tag at Guy Savoy is troubling given the feedback. Since I was introduced to Robuchon's cooking ar L'Atelier last time (he was there that night and had a chance to speak with him in broken French (his English is not so good and generally has one of his staff with him when he walks around to interpret customer's comments), I want to try something new and would prefer to save a meal at the Mansion for a trip with my wife.

Alas, this is my problem: I wanted to structure the meals so that we had a different dining experience each night: steak (Carnevino), tasting (Alex), seafood (Bartolotta). Although Guy Savoy would have put two tastings on the list, I don"t think I have seen enough evidence that it is worth the trip. Other possibilities I have considered are Cut, Louis's (although the whole mall idea bothers me) and Restaurant Charlie (yes, I know that would make two seafood choices). Rosemary's is not a possibility and Lotus of Siam would not fly with my father. If anyone has any insights that could help me resolve this dilemma, I would greatly appreciate it.

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  1. loved alex and bartolotta. haven't been to the other two. what about l'atelier? it certainly would be different from alex and bartolotta.

    1. Like you, I had a very similar experience at the French Laundry and it is the gold standard for any meal I will ever have again.

      With that being said - Guy Savoy was the 2nd best meal I've ever had. I do have to say that we were completely styled out since me and my buddy are friends with the then-executive-chef of GS. So my experience there will unlikely be like anyone else's but it still was some of the best food I've ever tasted. My only complaint is that the room seems cold and sterile at first. I warmed up to it in the 3 1/2 hours that followed but it was slightly uncomfortable at first. Personally, I would choose GS over anything else in Vegas if I had the money to spend because that type of dining experience is what I like more than anything else.

      I've never dined at Carnevino but if you want to do steak, let me make two other suggestions for you. Craftsteak at the MGM is my hands down all around favorite restaurant in the city. Their foie gras is AMAZING and the beef is always top notch. I could eat there 4 times a week and never get tired of it. Also think about Stripsteak at Mandalay Bay. Another great choice of steakhouse with an upbeat atmosphere and some killer food. Both places are really good and each have their own uniqueness to them that I've always said steakhouses need in order to separate themselves from one another.

      2 Replies
      1. re: azbirdiemaker

        Thanks for your thoughts. Your comment regarding Guy Savoy raises an interesting issue that I have found with many high end restaurants: frequent guests or those with a contact at the restaurant have a very different dining experience than many first time visitors. Although this makes perfect business sense, it can be rather frustrating for a first time visitor to a restaurant such as Guy Savoy or the French Laundry where they are spending serious money. While I was on the receiving end of the generosity at the French Laundry (that was a six hour meal), I have also experienced the jealousy of watching as a six course tasting menu is turned into a sixteen course meal for an adjoining table. It is a fine line the high end establishments have to navigate to maintain loyalty while not alienating first time visitors who may become regulars.

        As for steak, the reason Carnevino is on the list is Adam Perry Lang. The guy is a zealot when it comes to beef. Unfortunately, prior to Carnevino, his steaks were served in Robert's, a steak restaurant in the Penthouse Club in NYC; not exactly where I want to spend an evening. Again, I love the menu conceptually but it seems that they have not executed on that concept. I don"t know the executive chef but he is now in charge of three restaurants, including two high end places. It is one thing to have name chef's like Batali associated with multiple ventures but does it make sense for the guy actually in charge of the kitchen?

        1. re: stuckinsillyvalley

          Now this is a great thread!

          I've been to Alex, Bartolotta but not Guy Savoy (yet).

          Alex has become my gold standard the way you speak of French Laundry(another place I have not been yet). Their tasting menu really is amazing and has not disappointed in 3 trips. In fact, they seem to get better each time. On my trips to Vegas (usually 4/year) I have to force myself to not go to Alex in order to try different spots.

          Bartolotta is up there with both the best seafood and Italian restaurants for me. I would highly recommend the family style tasting menu. I was a bit skeptical of it being that the name implied gluttony. I tend to seek out tasting menus like Alex with multiple small portions rather than places most folks consider great values. That said, I've never left a tasting menu hungary. The family style tasting gave small samples of multiple different aspects in which the chef obviously excels. They served an amazing array of different and exotic seafoods impeccably prepared. The whole fish was served as well which was also quite an experience. Most threads on this and other sites focus on the whole fish which was great but would pale in comparison by itself to the tasting. The tasting is spendy, but that does not seem to be an issue for you based on your itinerary.
          I am most excited to try Guy Savoy. Hopefully on my upcoming trip in June it will work out. I was not aware of the bad press you brought up, but enough folks whom I trust (real and virtual) have raved about the food, service, ambiance, wine and overall experience. When dining at places like Guy Savoy I typically don't think of value in my decision to dine there. There are many more practical things to do with the $1500 it will cost my wife and I to do the Prestige Menu with the wines that do it justice. Fine dining experiences like Alex, Kai, Bartolotta and hopefully Guy Savoy enrich my life to where the cash laydown seems inconsequential. Just my take.
          That said, I don't think I would choose to do 2 major meals like Alex and Guy Savoy in the same trip. I like to save the high end places for future trips.

        1. re: woofer

          I can't remember who said it on this site, but Picasso at one time was the class of Vegas but has been pushed a bit back into the pack by places like Alex, Joel R. and Guy S. From my Vegas experience, Picasso was top-notch but still not up to the experience I had at Alex. If you enjoy the Bellagio fountains though, Picasso is your spot. Their foie gras was among the best I've had anywhere.

          1. re: climberdoc

            I think that Picasso is too similar to Alex to warrant its inclusion. Although Alex is mentioned in the same group as the Mansion and Guy Savoy, I think they take different approaches to fine dining. Robuchon and Savoy use innovative dishes to demonstrate their mastery of technique, refining disparate elements into a cohesive whole. I think that Alex takes a more straightforward approach, using more identifiable combinations but ensuring that the chef's mastery of technique is expressed by coxing the most out of each element. If Stratta has a french counterpart, it is Ducasse. One thing I wonder is whether the prices at the Mansion and Guy Savoy reflect both restaurants over reliance on French sources for their ingredients. The U.S. presents a bounty of artisnal products that neither chef seems to embrace. When I hear that they import even the most basic elements such as butter, I shudder. Do they not know of such great American producers as Animal Farm and Adante dairy? I would be more impressed by both chefs if their U.S. restaurants embraced local providers and demonstrated that such sources can still provide a compelling experience, if not greater.

            As for Picasso, I think it is too similar in style to Alex to warrant inclusion. I appreciate the recommendation but please keep them coming.

        2. This will be a long musing so please forgive me if you think it is irrelevant or long winded. I was curious about Carnevino as I have not heard of it before. And before you read on I am not writing to review Carnevino as I have never been. I originate from the NYC metro area and have always been passionate about food and wine. I visit Vegas approx. 4 times a year and am a regular reader and occasional poster. Prior to 2 years ago I had been very down on Babbo for a several dinners there that were, IMHO, below the standard for which the restaurant was being held. However after not being for several years I had to give it another shot and I was changed. It is a great experience and I consider a top destination. I have been to B&B twice in Vegas and I will have to say that I will not go back for several years (if it indeed makes it that long) because I think it is a far cry from Babbo and will take a while to work out its issues.

          I believe the team of Bastianich/Batali is quite the empire. They are marketing gurus that have far exceeded even the most optimistic in terms of success. And this quite evident at Carnevino. Again, I HAVE NEVER BEEN. But I have to question a couple of glaring points. 1st the prices. HOLY GOOD GOD!!! Pasta dishes fetching $40!!! Fried Calamari $23 for an appetizer. Then we get down to the "BBL" beef. "BBL beef is often beyond regular USDA prime standards for marbling and flavor and is hormone and antibiotic free." Then they go on to tell you the rub it with sea salt , black pepper and rosemary...big deal! And so what if you don’t want those things? Ok so maybe I am wrong. Maybe they let you ask for it to be rubbed your way. $150 for a bone in rib eye and $175 for porterhouse. I will tell you what...that rubs me the wrong way.

          C'mon folks. I know this is Vegas. I know you spend more just to eat in places. But when is enough enough? Would I spend this type of money in a restaurant? Absolutely. Would I spend this type of money on a steak? Not a chance. Even at the highest end retail place I can think of in NYC the price of beef has not gone above $30 a pound (and NO I do not buy it. Just using as a reference.) And that is for Prime (real USDA prime I may add) dry aged (for a min of 21 days) grass fed beef. Maybe because the USD$ has gotten so weak and places like the Palazzo cater exclusively to Europeans who are not shocked by prices like this. But at some point there will/should be a backlash against prices as egregious as these.

          6 Replies
          1. re: LVI

            FWIW the steaks you list the prices for are for two people.

            1. re: The Old Man

              After I posted I thought about qualifying that it was for 2, so thanks for mentioning However that really doesn't change my mind at all. Given that it's $80.00pp JUST for steak. Non-Kobe, non-USDA prime, may I add.

              1. re: LVI

                If people are willing to pay the money then why shouldn't restaurants offer steaks for astronomical prices. Vegas is full of those situations. $500 drinks, $100 burgers, $175 steaks. People are buying them and if they don't these "bargains" will likely fall off the menu. People are more likely to pull the triggor while in Vegas and rationalize these seemingly frivolous purchases.

                Your rant is confusing to me. Most folks who complain of prices are the "value" types who want to have large plates of food and pay very little for it. They are unable to appreciate that perhaps multiple small courses of immaculately prepared food can be an amazing experience that will leave you satisfied. They relate to the TV commercials equating fine dining to eating "elf" food. When the check arrives they are in utter disbelief at the "gaul" of someone to charge so much for so little food. Then they will likely throw in the obligitory comment of how they headed straight for the golden arches to pack down a big mac and large fries to fill up.

                From reading your posts, the previous paragraph does not describe you. It seems like people experienced in fine dining will know what is worth spending their money on and what are the gimmicks to avoid. I must admit that I've fallen for some of those gimmicks like the $80 burger at the burger bar with foie gras, truffles and short ribs. Was very good but won't do it again. I probably won't bite on the Carnevino porterhouse, but I may go for the $120 tasting of different New York steaks at Cut (Nebraska, American Wagyu, Japanese Kobe).

                I tend not to take rants about Vegas prices real seriously because usually I do not relate to the reasons for the rant. Yours is different however and I continue to be confused by it. Why not just avoid the place and go elsewhere where you won't feel ripped off? The choices in Vegas are endless.

                1. re: climberdoc

                  I think the pricing at Carnevino has triggered a wave of of frustration and I think that the opinion of LVI on such matter has some merit. We can all agree that Las Vegas has moved beyond a gambling destination and can now lay claim to being a full service entertainment mecca where many people venture who will never set fut in the casino unless it is on the way to a show or restaurant.

                  For many visitors, including myself, choosing among the wide variety of restaurants is one of the most enjoyable parts of my trip. Unlike the old days where large buffets were subsidized by the casino to bring in more gamblers, the new restaurants are also profit centers that can exist on their own and have their own customer base. Moreover. I have come to accept that such fine dining establishments will charge a premium for the experience since they will have to rely on a higher cost of goods in Las Vegas (e.g., see my previous comment regarding the Mansion and Guy savoy and their reliance on French ingredients). Nevertheless, I think the pricing at Carnevino has gone beyond economics and is simply testing how big of a profit margin they can get their customers to swallow. Since opening, the porterhouse for two has been reduced from $160 to $140; unfortunately, the rest of the menu has not followed.

                  As climberdoc mentioned, Las Vegas is the land of $500 drinks and $100 burgers but these are usually novelties on an otherwise appropriately priced menu (e.g., see Boloud's menu as an example). The problem for Carnevino is that it has applied the novelty concept to the whole menu. For places such as Guy Savoy and the Mansion, they are serving a small number of diners a very complex menu and utilizing a large number of employees. The cost of such an experience is going to be high and it is hard for diners to say that they can go to many other similar restaurants and get a similar experience for a better price. On the other hand, you don't have to leave the Palazzo to find a reference for Carnevino: Cut. Cut is not cheap and its steaks are not "choice" yet looks at its menu. Prices on everything from appetizers to main courses are significantly lower (and as any person will tell you, pasta dishes have one of the lowest cost of goods around). The leads me to the question: What is Carnevino offering that will make me choose it over Cut (or Craftsteak, SW Steakhouse, Prime, etc.)? To date, I have not found a reason. Maybe if BBL beef is hand massaged by Mario using red wine from his Italian Wine Merchants, it is worth a try at those prices (this coming from someone who was almost willing to bite at the current prices).

                  In the end, the prices at Carnevino made me feel like I would be playing a part in a bet between Mario and Joe. It is one thing to charge high prices, it is another when people realize that the emperor has no clothes.

                  1. re: stuckinsillyvalley

                    Stuckinsillyvalley. If there was an award for Chowhound of the Year, I would nominate you. Your posts are articulate and educated (imagine that).

                    In my opinion, Vegas has morphed once again and now it's definitely for the better. To me it is a dining destination and I consider myself fortunate to live within driving distance of so many great dining venues. I don't smoke or gamble and I avoid buffets like the plague. I don't find that an issue in the latest version of Vegas. In fact, I look forward to each trip with great anticipation. It's a place where I can indulge many of my passions, those being eating fine food, drinking fine wine, staying in fancy rooms, all in the company of my beautiful wife.

                    If a by-product of the "new" Vegas is emergence of novelties like those that have been mentioned, I think I will accept it. The educated diner should have the experience and knowledge to tease out the fluff from what is really worthwhile. If every so often I get stung by an $80 burger, that's okay. It only serves to make me a more educated and experienced diner.

                    1. re: stuckinsillyvalley

                      stuckinsillyvalley you have made some excellent points. Trying to compare a dinner @ Guy Savoy or the Maison to one @ Carnevino is almost comical. There are some chefs that are way too obsessive about ingredients or how certain dishes are made. One example I can make is Charlie Trotter. People may bemoan his often overly obsessive compulsive kitchen practices (i.e. making an 8oz red wine reduction from 40 bottles of good Bordeaux) but you can justify the expense. Is it over the top? Sure. But after tasting 1 drop of that reduction will make you appreciate, not necessarily justify, his obsession. And the other point stuckinsillyvalley makes is about the reliance on French ingredients. If you want to argue the merits of such a practice that is understandable. However it helps justify the prices they charge. Not to mention kitchen/wait staff at Guy Savoy. For anyone who has been to GS, the wait staff is one of the most professional and numerous I have ever seen. And the kitchen...WOW! Is it necessary? It all depends. But it can be quantified. These expenses all add up. And in turn the consumer is the one who pays for it. But it all adds to the experience.

                      Carnevino is serving a steak. Plain and simple. (And as they proudly display on the menu, they serve "BBL" beef. I may be wrong by saying this but I would guess they are saving themselves a pretty penny by not buying USDA Prime beef.) Are there 20 classically trained French chefs in the kitchen preparing dozens of complicated dishes? Has the dining room been decorated by a world renowned designer while no expense was spared? (I personally think the amount of money that was spent on the GS dining room was preposterous given its almost stark appeal. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder though.)

                      My whole point is that places like Carnevino seem to be taking the "let's see how much we can gouge the Las Vegas crowd" to a new extreme. Do you think locals will frequent this establishment? Not a chance (at least not the ones I know.) I will continue to dine at places like Lotus of Siam for its truly magnificent Thai cuisine. Picasso for its combination of food and atmosphere. Tableau for its over the top breakfasts like the braised Kobe beef short ribs atop an impossibly crisp potato pancake topped by a poached egg and béarnaise sauce. In-n-Out burger, Rosemary's...the list will go on. I have my definitions of good food, weather it be a Hot Dog from Rawleys in Fairfield CT, pizza from Pepe's, or the triple decker corned beef/tongue/pastrami sandwich from the Broadway Deli in Santa Monica. But what I will not pay for is a $175 (...oops now marked down to $160 because the price of beef has fallen ;-) ) steak. I hope that is not too confusing!

            2. Attempt to score a table outside by the pond at bartolotta.

              3 Replies
              1. re: AzDumpling

                The outdoor tables at Bartolotta in addition to the great food and service, make for one of the best dining experiences to be had in Vegas.

                  1. re: AzDumpling

                    Just had dinner at Bartolotta this weekend. Nice table outside and hostesses were very friendly switching us to a table outside. The private room was not what we wanted.

                    Food good. However, service was mixed. Our waiter seemed to have attitude, or at the very least, was not friendly. Our wine came late as well as an order of fish-- so two of us received our entrees about 15 minutes later than our party. Our waiter apologized but service was not "great." They did nicely bring us a bottle of dessert wine which was enjoyed.