Thursday, June 7, 2007

NY Post: LV Copies of NYC Eateries Suck. Sorta.

New York Post columnist Steve Cuozzo concludes that many of the Vegas versions of vaunted NYC eateries are pale facsimilies. His central conclusion:

"For the past few years, puff pieces about the Vegas dining revolution have clogged the pages of food and travel magazines that are, coincidentally, even more clogged with Vegas advertising. ... But unless the name is McDonald's, restaurants aren't portable. Even if the food is the same at distant locations - a dubious proposition - the atmosphere isn't close, and neither is the dining experience."

Along the way he mocks the decor of the Vegas version of 111-year-old Rao's (at Caesars Palace to your left, NYC to your right), as I have gotten great heat for as well, questions whether Fiamma (MGM Grand), Tao (Venetian), Il Mulino (Caesars) and Le Cirque (Bellagio) measure up to their Manhattan forebears, both culinarily (is that a word?) and experientially. He praises Daniel Boulud Bistro at Wynn, Restaurant RM and Mandalay Bay, both worthy exceptions to his thesis.

So here's the thing: He's sort of right. And not exactly right. If you've been to the original in New York, you have a preconceived notion of what you'll find and you can put not just the food on trial but also NY versus Vegas sensibilities. That cuts both ways.

I'm a big fan of Charlie Palmer's Aureole at Mandalay Bay, for instance. It's a terrific dining experience and brilliantly Las Vegas. We ate at the New York version last time we were in town and found it to be, well, stodgy. The food was good, but the "experience" was Old School. NYC devotees may never have seen a Vegas wine angel ascend a glass tower (right) on a winch and pulley to fetch a patron's vino -- and never wish to. Rao's was the same way. The only people who will even know how cheesy and false the decor is there are those of us who have had the privilege of experiencing the utterly charming original. The food's lovely at both, but that's not the only criterion for judgment.

Cuozzo kind of acknowledges just this at the end of the piece when he notes that one of the reasons Daniel Boulud Bistro triumphs is because of the Lake of Dreams show at Wynn that goes off every so often.

"I was halfway through a plate of pungent artisanal cheese when a giant, full-voiced frog popped out of a rainbow-lit waterfall and channeled Louis Armstrong's "Wonderful World." Try ordering that on East 65th Street!"

Well put.