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Postcard From Tom: In Vegas, a Diner's Jackpot
3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S. in the Wynn; 702-248-3463. http:/
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Even before you reach a table, your ears beg for relief from the pulsing rock-and-roll soundtrack and whatever games happen to be playing on multiple flat-screen TVs. And once you sit down, the temptation to bolt is strong. Noisy and brash, the year-old BLT Burger could pass for a Hard Rock Cafe or Planet Hollywood. But my heart was set on a good burger, and if any place here could fulfill that request, it is probably an offshoot of BLT Steak and a formula from New York chef Laurent Tourondel. (He's the LT part of the popular bistro empire.)
Here's a survival tip: Grab a seat at the curved yellow bar. It's set with bowls of peanuts in their shells for munching, and it looks onto one of the busiest grills I've ever seen: At peak times, 300 burgers might sizzle to doneness every hour. Even so, you get your seven-ounce patty the way you ask for it (in this case, cooked medium-rare and enhanced with blue cheese and sauteed onions). The beef is a blend of chuck, sirloin and brisket; the bun comes with a faint crunch from toasting. "Tip waiters, not cows," reads the T-shirt of the guy who delivers our juicy sandwiches. Beef is the theme but not the only draw at BLT Burger. The options extend to burgers made with lamb, turkey and American Kobe beef and average an easy-to-digest $12. I vote for the crunch and the cool in the ground-shrimp-and-pork burger, designed to taste like a Vietnamese banh mi with cilantro, pickled daikon and carrots. Twenty brews on tap and six pedestrian wines by the glass give the advantage to beer drinkers.
Reminders that you're in Sin City and not just Anywhere, USA: a life-size desert panorama on the wall, milkshakes spiked with booze and the option of ordering the Stripper. That's a burger without a bun.
3400 Las Vegas Blvd. S. in the Mirage Hotel & Casino; 702-792-7888. http:/
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A noisy casino sprawls right outside the entrance of Joël Robuchon, but once the curved glass door of the restaurant is closed, you feel as if you've been transported to Paris and a jewel box brimming with edible art.
It takes a few minutes to absorb all the richness. The intimate, 42-seat main dining room is plush with purple velvet banquettes, a quiet fire, enormous sprays of flowers and a sparkling chandelier; to the side is a second room, "the vertical garden," its walls covered with English ivy and the floor fragrant with flowers. Named for the Frenchman who was hailed as "chef of the century" for his magic at the late Jamin in Paris, the four-year-old Joël Robuchon is an utterly civilized scene, but not so stuffy that you can't relax. The guy next to me isn't wearing a jacket; the woman behind me is softly laughing.
Robuchon's amuse bouche raises the bar for gifts from chefs. The gratis treat is sweet crab paved with glistening osetra in a caviar tin set into a shiny black frame. What follows is all beautiful and mostly delicious, although I can relate to the well-traveled chef who confided in me when he said, "It's one of the top three meals in the United States, but I can't remember what I ate." With a few exceptions, no single dish dazzled me as much as did the accumulation of details here. One of those exceptions -- smoked mackerel brushed with creamy mustard, dotted with orange roe and staged with a perfect garden of vegetables atop a glass-and-mesh plate -- is brilliant on multiple levels. Still, I think I could make a meal of the bread cart alone, neatly arranged as it is with a baker's dozen of French classics, including tender milk buns, miniature baguettes, glossy brioches and small rolls green with basil. And the sweets cart, proffering exquisite bonbons, bite-size cakes and macaroons, turns every adult into a wide-eyed kid again.
Robuchon's 16-course tasting menu costs $385 per person for food alone. (One good thing to come from the recession: In May, the restaurant introduced less costly notions, including a three-course menu for $89.) The price of admission is not inexpensive, but the meal qualifies as a feast, factoring in an amuse bouche, that bread service, one of the most sensual rooms in the city and a sense of why Robuchon, the man, rightly continues to be revered.
3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S. in the MGM Grand Hotel; 702-891-7925; http:/