Beyond Just Food

In Las Vegas, new restaurants are taking dining and entertainment to a new level

By: David Yeskel

Merging dining with entertainment has always been a Las Vegas tradition. In fact, the now nearly-extinct dinner show had been a standard hotel offering for years.

Crammed in sardine-style at long rectangular tables, guests labored to cut a vulcanized chicken breast while avoiding their seatmate’s elbow and craning their neck 90 degrees to watch the show.

Needless to say, that setup was uncomfortable, unappetizing and not fun. In the ongoing evolution of this model, however, new eateries and myriad forms of entertainment began to spawn up and down the ever-changing Strip.

A relatively new wave of restaurants have fused dining and entertainment into a concept that might be called “Eatertainment.”

The entertainment itself isn’t necessarily straight-ahead or traditional, but in true Vegas fashion, it’s often a little different; sometimes even odd.

What it never is, god forbid, is boring.

Whether serving casual or gourmet fare, the following dining locales are favored for offering clients an experience beyond pure culinary pleasure:

Shintaro at Bellagio

The wall-length aquarium stocked with slowly gliding, multi-hued jellyfish at Shintaro’s entrance portends a very different dining experience. Whether seated at the fast-action teppan-yaki grill or in the elegant dining room, clients are treated to exquisitely prepared cuisine. Talented chefs prepare contemporary Japanese creations many infused with other Asian influences featuring subtle flavors and are elegantly presented on a variety of uniquely designed dinnerware.

We were duly impressed with the duck leg over pumpkin squash with star anise sauce; and the coconut sorbet was to-die-for. The chef’s special tasting menu also features saki pairings with each course. And if the jellyfish, teppan-yaki action and imaginative cuisine don’t provide enough stimulation, the water ballet show on Lake Bellagio viewed through large windows tops off the experience.

Café Lago at Caesars

Featuring subdued lighting, waterfalls, aqueducts and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Garden of the Gods swimming pool, Café Lago is Caesar’s casually chic, 24-hour dining locale.

Clients enjoy on an international menu supplemented by a compact yet classy buffet that epitomizes the quality-over-quantity experience. In particular, the Sunday Brunch Buffet is an upscale feast that suits all tastes without overwhelming the senses.

Enhancing the dining experience is talented recording artist David Osborne, whose piano melodies at just the perfect volume bathe the room in a lovely ambience.

Rainforest Café at MGM

Appropriately billed as "A Wild Place to Shop and Eat," Rainforest Café doesn’t disappoint on either activity. Passing under a 10,000-gallon aquarium arch into a simulated canopied rainforest populated by animatronic insects, birds and animals, patrons are slack-jawed at how much activity takes place here. The animals move every 10 minutes; there’s a thunderstorm every 20 minutes; and a series of waterfalls surround the room. The clever menu including Congo Clam Strips, Jungle Safari Soup and Monkey Business Bread Pudding complements the décor, but with all this action, the food almost seems secondary. The crowds, however, eat it all up with gusto.

Top of the World at Stratosphere

Where else but in Las Vegas could you dine on gourmet food 105 stories above the Strip while revolving 360-degrees as a roller coaster rumbles just above you every 15 minutes? Recently voted “Best Gourmet Room” by The Las Vegas Review Journal, Top of the World is definitely an only-in-Vegas experience.

Besides being wowed by the fabulous vistas of Las Vegas and beyond, patrons in the elegant dining room are equally impressed by the chef’s specialties. Specifically, the spinach salad with raspberry vinaigrette, the savory rack of lamb, and a luscious pecan tart were winners. After their meal, clients are invited to enjoy the outdoor viewing patio on the 108th floor. And please, ride the roller coaster before dinner.

Canaletto at The Venetian

The recent “close-to-home” travel mantra applies perfectly to Canaletto. Why travel to Italy when it’s all right here in Las Vegas? Seated in a near-perfect re-creation of St. Mark’s Square, Canaletto’s alfresco diners enjoy traditional Venetian pastas and seafood and efficient European service in a continuously perfect, 72-degree, early evening environment.

Fresh-baked breads and homemade pastas are the culinary highlights. Naturally, people-watching is a favorite activity, and singing gondoliers ply the canal while strolling minstrels sing and juggle to patrons’ delight. It’s a perfectly authentic Venetian experience, just without the pigeons which we didn’t miss.

Stefano’s at The Golden Nugget

Let’s face it: Italians are hopeless romantics. When the waiters at Stefano’s break into song favorite standards such as “Volare” and “That’s Amore” eyes get misty and couples nudge closer together. Clients are catered to by an attentive and super-friendly staff in an intimate room that evokes an Italian village.

Somehow, enjoying southern Italian favorites likes veal Bolognese or clams with linguini in this festive atmosphere is reminiscent of a slower, gentler time; certainly not the typical go-go Las Vegas tumult.

And when a hotel restaurant in this town feels like a family-run establishment, as Stefano’s does, it’s a refreshing find.