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Bellagio Bets on Gourmet

by GraceAnn Walden

Bellagio Hotel & Casino

Bellagio Hotel



Las Vegas is no longer just a high-roller haven. The city that Bugsy Siegal built has become a mecca for tourists of all types, from high-stakes card-players to families seeking a fun-filled vacationland to gourmet diners looking for a great meal. And no casino more typifies the new emphasis on fine dining than the Bellagio Hotel & Resort, an Italian-flavored resort-casino at 3600 Las Vegas Blvd South (888-987-6667), on the infamous Strip.

Great dining? In the past, anyone uttering those words in the same breath with Las Vegas would have been considered slightly crazy.

Not anymore. On many of the boulevards and the "Strip" continuous traffic jams and omnipresent construction cranes indicate the incredible growth of Las Vegas, and its ever-expanding appeal beyond the world of gamblers. Vegas, now the hotel capital of the world with over 100,000 rooms, outdraws any one of the Disney attractions in the United States. In 1998, more than 30.6 million people came to this neon oasis to see the sights, win and lose money and dine around to the tune of $1.38 billion in total tourism dollars (1996 figure).

That kind of money has attracted the best chefs in the country, perhaps the world. And no small credit goes to Steve Wynn, who built the Bellagio into a Tuscan fantasy along an 8.5-acre man-made lake. The hotel captures romantic symbolism and classical imagery of Italy in everything from the glass sculpture chandelier in the lobby, to the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, featuring works of art from Renoir, van Gogh, and Matisse. Living plants, flowers and gardens have been integrated into the casino's decor to create a soothing atmosphere.

As for accommodations, Bellagio offers deluxe guest rooms and suites with views of the resort's lake, surrounding mountains and Las Vegas skyline. Each room is appointed with custom European-style furnishings and art and is equipped with modern-day conveniences.

The Cirque du Soleil Production of "O" brings together an international cast of synchronized swimmers, divers, acrobats, aerialists and characters who have been assembled for the show, which is a combination of circus acts, modern theatrical effects, live music, dance and water.

But, of course, the real moneymaker, i.e. gambling or as they say in Nevada, "gaming" doesn't take a back seat to the finest caviar and champagne or the plushest room. Among the plants, flowers, and gardens you can find all the usual gaming choices including slots, video poker, keno, craps, blackjack, and baccarat.

Bellagio's thirteen restaurants run the gamut from gourmet dining to easy informal meals. Let's stroll by the restaurant offerings of the Bellagio:

For gourmet dining you can experience haute cuisine at Le Cirque, a replication of Sirio Maccioni and family's elegant but playful New York restaurant that features a mahogany interior and a circus theme. The executive chef is Marc Poidevin and the food is modern French-Italian with some Asian touches. Look for dishes like a foie gras ravioli with black truffles; a crisp sea bass wrapped with potatoes and the addictive bomboloni, creme filled puffs of dough. Also look for some of the highest menu prices in the resort:.

The larger, sister restaurant to Le Cirque is Osteria Del Circo, also from the Maccioni family and run by son Mario, who has relocated to Las Vegas, after working with his father in Manhattan for many years. Here renowned designer Adam Tihany, who also did Le Cirque both here and in New York City, has created another circus-themed restaurant, only the
emphasis here is more upscale Italian bistro. Expect flash seared carpaccio; grilled rare yellow fin tuna with cannelini beans or gnocchi with a shrimp-black truffle ragu. It is open for both lunch and dinner.

Chef Julian Serrano left his perch at the four-star Masa's restaurant in San Francisco to open Picasso in Bellagio, probably the most beautiful restaurant in Las Vegas. As if the lovely carpet, designed by son Claude Picasso weren't enough, there's a vaulted ceiling, terrazzo tiles, and central table covered with all manner of vases with flowers. Then there's the collection of Picasso ceramics and the Picasso paintings - $11 million worth. The food, just like at Masa's, is flawless: try signature dishes such as warm lobster salad or foie gras with baby vegetables. There are two tasting menus and the wine list is one of the best in the country.

MICHAEL MINA Bellagio is a clone of Aqua, one of San Francisco's best restaurants, and is a French-flavored high style seafood venue. Look for the caviar service for two; a tuna and foie gras napoleon or a savory black mussel souffle. While the San Francisco restaurant has a subtlety in design, the looping sail-like fabric overhead here is a distraction.

Besides Picasso, Prime was our other favorite restaurant in Bellagio. Manhattan's Jean-George Vongerichten and partners feature the chef's signature dishes like crab mango salad with cumin crackers; an assembled tomato accented with basil oil; and entrees like the house prime steaks that come with a variety of sauces from bernaise to tamarind, or seven different mustards. The look of Prime is updated art deco, with heavy brown velvet drapes, luscious blue marble and lots of mirrors and wood.

Todd English's Olives, a casual Mediterranean restaurant is located inside Via Bellagio, where the upscale shops live. It's the sister to chef Todd English's Boston-based Olives. One delightful seating area is outside on the patio, with a view of the Belaggio lake and dancing waters. Be sure to have the hummus plate with house-made pita bread; a white clam pizza; butternut squash tortelli pasta, and the signature Olive paella. Prices here are more affordable and the casual atmosphere is welcome. But unlike Le Cirque, Picasso and Prime, it is open for lunch and until 1 a.m. for late dining.

Jean Philippe Pâtisserie, where sweet and savory items including chocolates, cookies, cakes, crepes, salads, sandwiches and more.

Sensi, Italian, Asian, American and seafood specialties.

FIX, classic American fare.

Jasmine, a gourmet Chinese restaurant, is overseen by the estimable Phillip Lo, who gained fame with the Mayflower restaurant group in Northern California. Flanked on three sides by views of the man-made lake, this Hong Kong Chinese menu brings tastes like minced squab in lettuce; lobster dumplings and live seafood from the tanks like geoduck clam, Maine lobster, Santa Barbara prawns, Seattle Dungeness crab and all sorts of fin fish, cooked simply. For a special treat, don't miss the Peking Duck for two.

Noodles is a casual pan-Asian noodle slurping venue overseen by chef Chi Keung Chan. One great draw is that it is open 11 a.m.-3 a.m. every day, making it the perfect snack spot. Appetizers include cold noodles and salads; barbequed and roasted meats such as roast pork, duck or chicken. Look for Korean, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese and Chinese dishes.

Cafe Bellagio, the 24-hour coffee shop, is good in a pinch, but not particularly remarkable.

Café Gelato, Italian ice cream, frozen yogurt and sandwiches.

The Petrossian Bar, a small venue featuring caviar, champagne and smoked salmon, is a delightful spot off the main lobby, perfect for relaxing after all those jackpots.

The Buffet at Bellagio is probably the best in Las Vegas with a range of $19.95 for lunch and $27.95 for dinner during the week and a $35.95 weekend gourmet buffet. Iit appeals to 5,000 hungry people a day. If you want to see long lines, this is the spot. Not everyone wants to tap into the upper end spots like Prime or Picasso, especially when they have gaming on their mind. So what makes this buffet the best? Sparkling fresh shellfish, delicate roasted squab, hand-carved fresh rotisserie meats, a wide variety of fresh salads, and desserts done by a famous French pastry chef Jean-Philippe Maury, who comes from Payard Patisserie in New York.

Bellagio is named for the famous Italian resort, but it could also be translated into "Bon Appetit!"

Visit their website at: www.bellagioresort.com

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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