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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
February 29, 2016
The Countdown: Top 10 Vegas News Stories of the Week
10. Fontainebleau Sale Imminent?
Word on the street is that The Fontainebleau, that big hulk of a mothballed building just north of the now shuttered Riviera, is going to get a new owner. A Clark County Commissioner gave an interview to the Las Vegas Review Journal in which he confirmed that a suitor for the building has been going through the necessary steps to purchase it, although nobody is saying who that somebody is. The Fontainebleau was supposed to be a 3,000 room, $3 billion mega-resort but the developers went bankrupt during construction and the partially built building went dark in 2009. Billionaire Carl Icahn bought it in 2010 for $156 million, a fraction of what had been spent on it so far, and left it empty ever since but recently announced that he was interested in selling it - for about four times what he paid for it. No word on what the new owner will do with the building. Read more about the Fontainebleau.
9. Two Vegas Restaurant Closures
There have been a couple of notable restaurant closures over the last few weeks, a long-timer and a newbie to the Vegas scene. Kahunaville closed recently, ending its run at Treasure Island after, well, it seems like forever. The island themed restaurant came along in the 1990s when themes were all the rage. Right across the street at The Venetian, the Anchor Bar, which lays claim to having invented the Buffalo chicken wing, shut down its brand new store at the Grand Canal Shoppes. This has only been in Vegas for a few months and owners are saying they are going to reopen in a new location but we'll see. No word on what will replace either venue. Read more about Treasure Island.
8. 50% Off Skyjump for Leap Day
If you have been hankering to leap off the top of The Stratosphere but wanted it to be a bit more economical, February 29 - Leap Day - is (or was depending on when you're reading this) your opportunity. The Skyjump attraction is offering 50% off all of it's packages, which normally start at $110. Come on... seems like $55 is a small price to pay to prove you're completely insane. Read more about the thrilling attractions atop The Stratosphere.
7. Celebrity Chef's Momofuku Coming to the Cosmo
James Beard award-winning chef David Chang has taken the culinary world by storm with more than a dozen of his Momofuku restaurants in New York, Toronto, Washington DC, and Australia. Now he is preparing to bring his take on contemporary Asian cuisine to Las Vegas with a new eatery at The Cosmopolitan. It is not clear which of his restaurants will come here but it will most likely emulate his CCDC restaurant in the nation's capital, which serves an eclectic menu of Japanese noodle house-inspired dishes. The opening is set for the end of this year. Read more about The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
6. Wynn Adding Third Vegas Hotel?
Norm Clarke of the Las Vegas Review Journal is reporting that Steve Wynn is prepping plans to add a third hotel to his Vegas empire. According to those in the know, it'll go on at least part of the land now occupied by the Wynn Golf Club and will feature 1,000 rooms and a 40-acre lake. For comparison sake, Wynn Las Vegas has about 2,700 rooms and Encore has about 2,000 while the lake in front of Bellagio is 8 acres. A spokesperson for Wynn Resorts said nothing is official yet but with Resorts World construction getting underway things could get really interesting on the North Strip really fast. Read more about Wynn Las Vegas.
5. Two Cirque Performers Injured in Falls
Two separate incidents at Cirque shows last week left two performers in the hospital. The first incident occurred during dress rehearsal of Cirque du Soleil's Love, The Beatles themed show at The Mirage when a performer fell about 20 feet. The second incident happened the next night during Zarkana at Aria when another performer fell. Both were taken to the University Medical Center where they were both stabilized and treated - both are expected to fully recover. Love has gotten an overhaul and was prepping to debut its new look this past week while Zarkana is in its final days before it will close in March when the theater will be replaced by convention space. Read more about Love by Cirque du Soleil.
4. Celine's Emotional Return to Vegas
Celine Dion took the stage at Caesars Palace last night for the first time since the deaths of her husband and brother, both of who died from throat cancer within a couple days of each other. As a tribute to Rene Angelil, the performance opened with a touching video that chronicled personal and milestone moments in Rene's life from his early days of childhood, to managing a superstar recording artist, to being a loving husband and father. Celine also sang Barbra Streisand's "With One More Look at You," dedicating the song to the memory of her late husband. "I understood that my career was in a way was his masterpiece, his song, his symphony," expressed Celine. "The idea of leaving it unfinished would have hurt him terribly. I realized that if he ever left us I would have to continue without him, for him." Read the review of Celine Dion's show in Vegas.
3. Aria's New Nightclub to Debut May 19
Aria Las Vegas is about to get back in the nightclub business with Jewel, the new party spot that is replacing the old part spot Haze. While certainly not small, Jewel is certainly more compact than the mega-clubs on The Strip with an estimated 24,000 square-feet of space or about half what Omnia at Caesars Palace has. Designed by David Rockwell, the same guy who did the interiors of The Cosmopolitan, Jewel will have a main club complete with a DJ booth that will be able to turn 360 degrees, high-tech lighting and sound, and VIP booths. A mezzanine level will have skyboxes overlooking the main club and its own dance floor and bar. Jewel is set to debut on May 19. Read more about Aria Las Vegas.
2. My Favorite Show Coming Back to Vegas!
If you read the Top 10 Awards for 2015 you may remember that I picked an obscure show that had already closed as my favorite of 2015. Amazing news - it is finally confirmed to be coming back to Vegas in a newly revamped theater at The Palazzo. The original "For the Record: Baz" title is being dumped in favor of a new one, "Star Crossed Love," but the rest of the show will remain intact with mashups of the music, dialogue, and plots of the films of director Baz Luhrmann including "Romeo + Juliet," "The Great Gatsby," and "Moulin Rouge" (with a tiny bit of "Strictly Ballroom" thrown in for good measure). The new title references the basic plots of those movies, which involves love affairs that don't exactly end happily. "Star Crossed Love" is set to debut in May and will feature an immersive experience where the action takes place both on a stage and throughout the audience. Read the review of the original Baz.
1. Elvis to Get His Own Street
Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. all have streets in Vegas named after them so about the only thing that is surprising about Elvis Presley getting his own street near the Vegas Strip is that it hasn't happened before now. Riviera Boulevard, which runs east and west between the closed Riviera Hotel and the mothballed, partially built Fontainebleau, will become Elvis Presley Boulevard when The Riv is imploded. The location is especially fitting since the street ends at Paradise Road across from The Westgate - back when it was the International and Las Vegas Hilton it was the home of Elvis Presley's stage show for many years and there's an Elvis museum in the building now. Interestingly, this will not exactly the be the first Vegas street named after The King - there's an Elvis Presley Court an Elvis Alive Drive on the north side of town.TOP
Top 10 Downtown Las Vegas Restaurants
If you had asked me to do a list of the ten best restaurants in Downtown Las Vegas a few years ago I would've struggled to come up with ten to fill the whole thing out. The city's core used to be a dining (and everything else) wasteland, filled with underwhelming steakhouses and adequate buffets.
When I sat down to do the list this time, I actually had to struggle to get it down to only ten restaurants. The Downtown dining scene has been transformed with some really fantastic, affordable eateries that are absolutely worth the trip from The Strip. I had to make some tough choices but here are the ten restaurants I finally settled on:
10. Big Ern's BBQ
Those of you who have been reading my reviews for the last few decades will know that I'm a barbeque snob who believes that the only place to get real 'Que is in a state east of the Mississippi and south of the Mason Dixon line, so the fact that I am including Big Ern's here is high praise indeed. Read the full review.
9. Andiamo Steakhouse
Riffing off of the old-school Vegas vibe, this dark and club-like steakhouse at The D Las Vegas sets itself apart with not only great cuts of meat but incredible Italian dishes as well. Read the full review.
8. Viva Las Arepas
Stop here on your way into Downtown Las Vegas and pick up some of their Venezuelan specialty arepas. Packed with meat, veggies, and or cheese, these little cornmeal treats are insanely flavorful. Read the full review.
7. The Smashed Pig
A new entry to the Vegas market earns its place on this list with an intriguingly varied menu that is part British pub grub, part Asian bistro, and all terrific. Read the full review.
6. La Comida
Michael Morton's entry into Downtown Las Vegas is this delightful Mexican eatery that serves authentic dishes that come with a home-cooked kitchen flair. Don't miss the tres leches cake - you'll thank me for it later. Read the full review.
Focusing on a farm-to-table freshness, the eclectic menu offers everything from Japanese street corn to a chicken salad sandwich and steak frittes to an amazing burger. Everything we tried was amazing. Read the full review.
4. Eat Downtown Las Vegas
One meal here and you will never want to visit a Vegas breakfast buffet again. Their lunches are great too but it's their morning meal omelettes, sandwiches, and more that will get you up early to beat the lines. Read the full review.
3. The Goodwich
Although it is currently closed while they move into a new, bigger location, the sandwiches and The Goodwich are absolutely worth waiting for and the new space may even elevate this higher the next time I do a similar list. Read the full review.
2. Carson Kitchen
Chef Kerry Simon was a legend in Las Vegas, bringing his approachable style to fantastic restaurants like this on in Downtown Las Vegas that has sort of a farm-to-table approach. Sadly we lost Chef Simon this year, but his legacy lives on here. Read the full review.
1. Itsy Bitsy Ramen & Whiskey
I have been raving about this place to anyone who will listen, begging them to go Downtown to experience the Japanese street food, ramen, and other specialties at this fantastic little eatery. Don't have a car to get there? It's absolutely worth a cab or an Uber - it's that good. Read the full review.
Restaurant Review: The Haute Doggery
Over the last few years, burger places have become omnipresent up and down the Las Vegas Strip with every major hotel having at least one and some having multiple.
But that other staple of American dining - the hot dog - hasn't gotten the same kind of love with the exception of the classic Pink's down the street and the occasional Nathan's in the food courts. Maybe the Haute Doggery will change all that.
Created by the same folks who do Holstein's, the burger place at The Cosmopolitan, this small eatery is located at The Linq Promenade, the shopping street between The Linq hotel and The Flamingo. It's pretty small - mainly designed as a to-go place - but there are a few first-come, first-served tables. It's nothing fancy but this is a hot dog joint so why should it be?
We'll get the non-hot dog things out of the way first. The burgers come in classic, southern smokehouse (topped with beef brisket and cole slaw), chili-cheese, and bacon and gruyere cheese varieties. Since the burgers at Holstein's are so good, I'll take a flyer and say that these should be pretty good as well but if you want a burger, go to a burger place.
Other items include fries with a variety of dipping sauces available, onion rings, poutine with cheese curds and brown gravy, and even a $1 shrimp cocktail.
But then it's on to the dogs. The Retro section of the menu has classics - plain, Polish, Chicago style with tomato and dill pickle, Detroit Coney style with chili and mustard, DC Half Smoke with chili and spicy onions, and a Tijuana with bacon and jalapeno among others.
The Haute Dogs go off in new directions with toppings like grilled mushrooms and gruyere cheese on the Fun-Ghi, borracho onions and pepperjack on the El Machete, teriyaki and tempura avocado on the Rising Sun, feta and tatziki on the Big Fat Greek, and even Foie Gras and truffle mayo on the Billionaire Dog.
I went for the Gold Standard, a hot dog version of the burger of the same name served at Holstein's. It's got smoke bacon, cheddar cheese, roasted tomato, arugula, and garlic aioli and while I could have done with about 50% less argula, it was quite fantastic - a perfect snap to the dog, excellent smoky bacon, and fresh cheese. Loved it.
Prices are so low that you almost want to double check that you didn't see it wrong. Dogs start under $5 and top out at $11 with most in the $5-$7 range. Burgers are all around $11 and sides $4-$7 and big enough for sharing. You can easily do lunch for under $15 and maybe under $10 if you try hard enough. I know they are "only" hot dogs but they are big enough and loaded with enough toppings that you really only need one.
Watch out burgers... the hot dogs are coming to get you!
Restaurant Review: The Smashed Pig
Downtown Las Vegas' winning streak of interesting restaurants continues with this latest edition, a tiny slip of an eatery that masquerades as a British pub but really has more of a international flair to it.
Located on Fremont Street in the Fremont East Entertainment District, the Pig is just a stone's throw from the Fremont Street Experience and in the same block as places like The Commonwealth and Emergency Arts. It's a tiny slip of a place with a bar big enough for maybe half a dozen people up front and a dining room in the back with a handful of tables. The decor is what we'll call warm industrial, which in this case means lots of unfinished cement that is offset by vibrant paintings and multi-hued upholstery on the chairs.
The menu is limited but is a varied as you can get with only about a dozen options. British pub favorites like Yorkshire pudding, fish and chips, and bangers and mash lead the way but then it veers into Asia with French bean tempura, sashimi, and chicken lettuce wraps with water chestnuts and crispy noodles, then back to Europe for steak frites with bearnaise sauce, and into America with a classic pub burger. It's enough to give you whiplash, but the cool thing is that while it doesn't seem like it would all work together it does, somehow.
We sampled the fish and chips and the burger, both of which were terrific. The fish was lightly battered and deep fried but not to excess and the burger was deeply smoky, like it had just come off a backyard barbecue grill. Delicious.
And don't even think about skipping the sea salt garlic fries. They are just as decadent as they sound.
Desserts include sticky toffee pudding, trifle, and crepes with citrus butter among others but we were too stuffed to sample anything. It's on my "come back later" list.
The service was fantastic and friendly and much more patient than I would have been with the family of screaming children at the table near us.
Prices are a bargain compared to The Strip. Appetizers rea all under $10, main courses around $15 (except for the steak, which bumps you up to $24), and desserts all hover around $5. You could easily do a very satisfying meal here for $20 or $25.
Like I said - Downtown Vegas wins again.
The Smashed Pig
509 Fremont St.
Las Vegas, NV 89101
Mon-Fri 11:30am-3:30pm & 5:30-10pm
Vegas4Visitors Grade: A-