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Las Vegas

Shows and Spas

In a bid for respectability and business from discerning travelers, Las Vegas is giving itself a monumental makeover. Today, this former nexus of tacky, once merely a haven of bad taste, showgirls in peek-a-boo costumes and feathers, $8.99 buffets and gambling has gone upscale. The latest crop of renovated hotels and new restaurants, shows and shops rivals the best of Los Angeles and New York. In the frenzy to be bigger and better the city is borrowing cachet from all over the world and putting its own stamp on it. Excess still reigns, but in a classier rendition. The last incarnation as a family vacation destination didn't quite fit so now Vegas is outfitting itself in the symbols of international shopping style and importing restaurants of national renown. Even the mix of revenues has been shuffled. Less than 50 percent of tourist dollars presently goes toward gambling.

The landscape and skyline are changing, too. Copies of famed world-wide geographical and architectural touchstones have been incorporated into the design of the latest theme hotels. Touted as the most beautiful hotel ever built, the lavish Tuscan-style mega villa, Bellagio, a hotel-resort-spa-casino-restaurant and entertainment complex and shopping mecca sits on an eight-acre version of Italy"s Lake Como. Its bravura is unparalleled.

When we dined at Shintaro, one of the hotel"s 21 restaurants, dinner was accompanied by an enormous gush of water visible through the front windows. Outside swirling fountains shot into the darkened sky like fire hoses dancing on burning buildings. Lights tripped over and fetching show tunes kept time with the water ballet.

Steve Wynn, casino impresario, was responsible for putting Bellagio on The Strip in 1998. Today it belongs to MGM Mirage, a hotel and gaming company whose prime properties are, along with its headquarters, situated in Las Vegas. At birth the hotel started out as a beauty, but MGM"s embellishments added more glamour.

Changing the season at the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens
Credit: Vivian K. Fancher

In keeping with the Italian theme glass artist Dale Chihuly"s Fiori di Como, an installation of blown-glass flowers, covers the lobby ceiling. Although based in Seattle, Chihuly"s work reflects that of the artisans of Murano, an island near Venice where he studied. The Conservatory & Botanical Gardens were on location from day one. Botanists, designers, carpenters and craftsmen redo the tableau seasonally. In January when a new set was being constructed onlookers were spellbound as they watched the progress. Predominantly red and gold, with a pagoda and Oriental-style bridge, it would when completed most assuredly look like a Japanese Garden.

The vaulted mall, Via Bellagio, brings to mind Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele ll. Late 19th century-high class arcades or gallerie roofed with steel-reinforced glass preceded modern shopping centers. Lined with the grandest names in fashion—Prada, Gucci, Armani—the design of the hotel's street of boutiques appears to have sprung from the Italian concept of the mall.

The completion of the Spa Tower at the end of 2004 added 928 rooms and suites topped by a 4,000 square-foot Presidential Suite. Unique among accommodations, this dazzlingly spread decorated by a local firm includes an unusual feature, a conference room. It is the perfect party space, to which we can attest after having attended a social gathering there.

In a place so dedicated to the new, the now and the ephemeral, every attraction is at the first sign of obsolescence attacked by the wrecking ball. And so it was with the recently unveiled Spa & Salon. By its seventh birthday in 2004, the fitness and beauty facility was deemed over the hill and ready to be scrapped and redone. The 65,000-square-foot Spa & Salon Bellagio bears no kinship to a traditional resort spa. Think destination spa for a closer approximation to the facility's design and services. Built with Zen principles in mind, four basic natural elements are present in the concept. Granite and shell stone represent earth, water streams down walls, candles depict fire and fans provide wind.

Bellagio Spa
Credit: Vivian K. Fancher

The treatments are so unique that one might imagine that they had been conceived yesterday. Although Thai yoga massage is 2,500 years old, I had my first experience with it at Bellagio. The kneading of muscles, which dominates Western massage, is absent. Instead pressure is applied to energy points and much stretching is involved. Like shiatsu it takes place on the floor rather than on a table.

The practice of watsu, begun in 1980 in California, is a relatively young therapy when compared with some age-old treatments adapted for the spa, such as Egyptian gold and gem therapy. The setting is a specially designed room-sized pool filled with shallow water warmed to body temperature. The therapist floats the client using both massage and stretching to move her/him out further in the water and pull her back. I did not pack a bathing suit, but along with workout clothes the spa had one for me. Again this modality was a first. I plan to try it again.

Following the treatments many of the guests meet in the Meditation Room where the warm glow of candles and the sounds New Age music and flowing water create a spiritual-like atmosphere. Lillian Africano, a spa writer, looked around at the women dressed in robes and lying on chaises and remarked, "This reminds me of the Roman baths.”

I was impressed by the new Fitness Center, too. Classes are held in the bamboo studio, named for the wood used in the flooring. Mat pilates is now a regular feature at many gyms, but unlike Bellagio few have pilates equipment.

I watched Steve Rosen, the boxing instructor, lead a women's group in a rigorous workout. Rosen, who developed the class, said that it is the only one of its kind in Las Vegas and that four minutes spent on his routines equaled the benefits of 45 minutes of aerobics.

To encourage men to use the new salon and its expanded services, a barber room was set up just for them. Waxing/facial rooms and private manicure/pedicure rooms where one can indulge in the ultimate luxury of having two manicurists work on their finger and toe nails at the same time are also on site. Elizabeth, a make-up artist, who just came on board, made up my face. I was so delighted with the subtlety and natural artistry that I almost wished I didn't have to wash it off. Particularly effective was her airbrushing technique, mixing colors to match the skin and spraying the base on with a small machine.

A day of beauty requires a follow-up evening of fun. With some big names at the helm of the restaurants—Sirio Maccioni in Le Cirque and Circo, Todd English at Olives, Jean-George Vongerichten at Prime Steakhouse, Julian Serrano at Picasso and Michael Mina at his eponymous seafood place, it makes you want to do some progressive dining. The latest addition to the restaurant scene takes care of that. With an internationally inspired menu, you can eat at Sensi and choose Italian, Indian, Indonesian and French food. The walls of Sensi, the Italian word for senses, are made of glass. Diners can look into four open kitchens to watch the chefs at work.

Tuscan Kitchen
Credit: Vivian K. Fancher

Also new in the food arena is the opening of Tuscan Kitchen, a demonstration space with equipment to die for including a vintage $24,000 proscuitto slicing machine from Italy. Executive Chef Wolfgang von Wieser assisted by some of the hotel's 900 cooks prepared a three-course lunch. As he worked the screen behind him was adjusted for distance and size so that guests could watch the action from an ideal vantage point. Wieser intends to develop a cooking school at the kitchen. It will also be used for demonstrations of up to 60 persons followed by private dinner parties.

Being a solid Cirque du Soleil fan I chose to continue my night out by going to a theater at Bellagio to watch "O” for the second time. It's been playing since 1998 and still attracts full houses. Unlike some of the company's other productions that travel, Cirque shows that open in Vegas stay there permanently. The stage upon which "O” appears is a pool and the performance takes place in, over and on it. Suzanne Duffy, a public relations account executive, who sat near me, said that this was the fifth time that she had seen "O.” She is still excited by the performance and for the first time she noticed that the singers in the boxes were dressed as brides. Publicity notes say that the show is "inspired by the concept of infinity.”

Cirque du Soleil produces three other shows in Vegas, all of them in theaters at MGM Mirage Hotels. Luke Eliot, a writer whose beat is Vegas, favors "Mystere” at MGM Treasure Island because of its ethereal quality and sensuousness. Zumanity, playing at MGM's New York-New York, is "another side of Cirque de Soleil.” Some theater-goers are entertained; others are put off by the theme of sexuality, sensuality and eroticism. Zumanity veers from the expected circus acts to a European cabaret-like format. Even the seating has been rearranged. Choose between cabaret stools, sofas or traditional theatrical seats.


Ka, the latest effort of the Montreal-based troupe, debuted in December 2004 at the MGM Grand and like "O” plays on an intricately designed set in a specially-built environment. Ka employs the usual extravagant costumes (these are Asian-inspired) state-of-the art sound system, gravity defying martial arts displays and fire stunts galore. Unlike other productions this show has a plot, the tale of separated twins who reunite after a daring journey. Some of the action that moves the narrative along are a very dramatic shipwreck and drowning; a caterpillar, turtle and starfish emerging from the sea onto the sand; and shadow finger puppets. Acrobats walking on a wheel and climbing a 90-degree angled wall with and without the help of pegs substitute for the usual trapezes.


Along with the debut of Ka late last year, MGM Grand, another star in the MGM Mirage constellation, just had its brightness meter upped to maximum wattage with the addition of more astral-like facilities. SKYLOFTS, the new duplex one- two- and three-bedroom accommodations with sizable open-floor layouts and floor-to-ceiling two-story windows mirror urban lofts. Each of the dramatic and contemporary white and
neutral-toned 51 lofts were designed so that, despite some common features, no suites are completely alike. Super-extravagant bathrooms are the new hotel status symbols. The Lofts more than meets the challenge with "immersion chamber” showers with waterfalls, steam and rain; steam rooms; and infinity-edged tubs with "champagne bubbles” massagers. To complement these uber-lodgings personal butlers are always on call. There are even butler categories: dream butlers who provide amenities to help you sleep and spa butlers who create a spa atmosphere.

Remember Christophe, the salon owner who cut Bill Clinton's hair and caused an outcry in the press about his stratospheric prices. He's opened a fifth mod, high-tech branch at MGM Grand and was visiting the day I had my hair cut. Another stylist, Lawrence, whose price is more modest, did a great job on me. All the women I was with were pleased with the results of their cuts, color and styling.

The most recent dining establishment to find space on the hotel's restaurant row is Shibuya serving modern Japanese food and featuring a sake sommelier. Shibuya's decor is also modern Japanese. Bent metal slats form open sculptures that serve as room dividers and noise absorbers. If guests were to request an omakase meal, the chef might compose one from all parts of the menu: sushi and sashimi, teppanyaki, and cold and warm plates listed as a la carte specialties. Our group put ourselves in the chef's hands with a caveat. We asked for sushi and sashimi. Plate after plate arrived tasting like the entire briny-to-sweet spectrum of the sea. Western-style desserts incorporate Japanese flavors like sake and green tea.

Along with the opening of Shibuya, MGM Grand has in the past year seen the arrival of wichcraft, a casual spot for original sandwiches from award–winning chef, Tom Colicchio; Diego featuring regional Mexican food and a tequila master overseeing a noted collection of this fabled drink; and Teatro Euro Bar, a hot late spot bringing together nightlife and entertainment.

The energy generated in Las Vegas makes it perhaps the only truly non-stop city on earth, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Like an illusionist who conjures up lighted candles out of the air, materializes decks of cards and then sails them into invisibility, and hatches doves and watches them fly away, Vegas is a magic show, pushing away reality by substituting it with fantasy and making us believe in make-believe.

Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas NV 89109. Tel. 888-987-3456. http://www.bellagio.com

MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas NV 89109. Tel. 800-929-1111.

Winter 2004-05


The City of Neon Lights

Welcome to a 13-hour (10 to 11) shopping extravaganza at The Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace whose theme simulates an Ancient Roman commercial thoroughfare. Buying or even browsing here is serious stuff. Several high-end international brand names such as Gucci, Valentino and Ferragamo are exclusive to this location and have no other outposts in town. Incorporating an overhead sky, the street ends at the domed rotunda that is the stage for a drama about the Lost City of Atlantis.

Venus Pool at Caesar's Palace

The Baths of Caracalla have nothing on the waterworks at this Caesar’s Palace. Hourly at the Festival Fountain, animatronic statues relate the Atlantis story. As the mythical sunken continent rises and falls, Atlas, Gadruis and Alia compete to rule it. Venus, the goddess of beauty, tells Bacchus that it’s an honor to attend the party he’s hosting. The god of wine and merriment acknowledges her compliment with a belch. Special effects--fire, water, light, sound and smoke--are part of the action.

Company executives admit that in "recapturing the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome" the casino/resort blends "the erotic and exotic with a certain amount of decadence." Mythic gods whose classic statuary are everywhere on the property were known for their lifestyle. Hotel facilities and spaces, restaurants excepted, are cleverly tagged with names, which are familiar in the history of the Hellenic and Roman Empires. The wedding chapel is Neptune’s Villa. Towers housing guest rooms and suites bear monikers like Forum and Centurion. The stores in the hotel proper line the Appian Way. And if the atmosphere here is slightly hedonistic, that’s just as it should be for Las Vegas vacationers.

Celine Dion, A New Day

At Caesar’s where less would never be more, a colossal expansion is and has been underway with more and more facilities being altered or added. In March 2003 the Cypress Street Marketplace, a collection of serve-yourself eateries opened at the Forum Casino. Bradley Ogden, a famed chef and restaurateur inaugurated his first branch outside California. And the most spectacular happening of all, the unveiling of The Colosseum, a milestone in entertainment arenas, took place. Built in just 14 months, this one-of-a-kind theater has the largest indoor screen in North America. It was specially constructed to showcase Celine Dion in a spectacular production, "A New Day." Dion’s boundless energy, partnership with Franco Dragone, director of Cirque du Soleil’s finest shows and awesome advanced technology makes "A New Day" the hottest ticket on the strip. Backed by a talented troupe of vocalists, musicians and dancers, the singer’s long-term contract will keep her in front of cheering fans for hundred of nights.

Park Place Entertainment, Caesar’s corporate parent, stretched the Greco/Roman motif 30 miles to Boulder to present another latest/best/most eye-popping addition, the just-opened golf course, Cascata, meaning waterfall, whose clubhouse is modeled after a Tuscan villa. You can’t play if you don’t stay at a PPE property. There are neither greens fees, nor food and drink charges. However, you must be a "special" guest. Like other services that are comped, you need to frequent the casino and place big bets. Golf course architect and genius Rees Jones constructed 18 holes and a practice facility on the side of a mountain. A 418-foot waterfall flows down the mountain and into the clubhouse. Almost every hole is framed by rock ledges. An abundance of water, grass, wild flowers, trees and cacti create a serene setting at Cascata, one of the most glorious golf courses in the world.

Suite with golf simulator

Guest rooms and suites are furnished in the best of taste and would please anyone regardless of whether they prefer a traditional, modern or contemporary look. The front door to our suite closed out the glitz. A kitchen, dining room, powder room, two oversized baths and walk-in closets, living room and bedroom were comfortable and homey.

Caesar’s Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Tel. 702-731-7110. www.parkplace.com/caesars/lasvegas/

The Forum Shop at Caesar’s, 3500 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Tel. 702-893-4800

Tickets for A New Day, 1877-4-Celine


The eponymous Bradley Ogden at Caesar’s staged an opening party, passing a dozen and a half samples of starters, small entrees and desserts. Farm to table ingredients are the focus of Ogden’s cooking. Appetizers included mouth-watering bites of potato cake with caviar, oyster fritters and sugar snap pea soup. Stand-outs among the main courses were Colorado lamb chops and morel salad and lobster-crab cakes. A variety of sweets like chocolate explosion and vanilla tangerine madelines showcased the kitchen’s talent in dreaming up great pastries. The modern yet rustic décor blends bright earth tones and warm woods and enough simplicity so as not to intrude on the central experience here—fine dining. Waiters look spiffy in conservative gray suits and ties.

Tel. 703-721-7140.

Across the strip from Caesar’s at Paris La Vegas, Ah Sin, an Asian restaurant with a new concept, was recently added to PPE’s varied dining scene. The cuisines of China, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and Korea are all featured here on a very long menu. The large group at our table shared some of the specialties so that we could all taste the beef sashimi, golden triangle wontons, roasted duck salad, crunch rolls, suckling pig barbecue, charred chicken, Vietnamese glass noodles and lobster chunks. In Cantonese Ah Sin means always lucky, the name of a Chinese gambler who was created by writer Bret Harte. The lead designer on the project calls the space "contemporary zen."

Upstairs from Ah Sin is another new spot, Risque, a late-night dessert bar in a nightclub atmosphere. Jean-Claude Canestrier, who was named top international pastry chef in a 2002 international competition, prepares unique sweets. Our favorite was apricot soufflé.

Ah Sin, Risqué, Paris Las Vegas, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Tel. 702-946-7000.

Michael Goodman who had only been head man at Veranda at the Four Seasons for three weeks, but who had been climbing the hotel chain’s ladder for years prepared a superlative tasting dinner for us and matched every luscious course with an equally outstanding wine. Peppery foccacio and balsamic and olive oil dip accompanied seared scallops and spinach sauced with a red pepper reduction. A Ferrari-Carano 2001 fume blanc chosen as the starting vintage had a citrus finish and peppery balance. Tender juicy duck breast cooked medium, napped with balsamic sauce and sided with a greens-filled squash basket was matched with a California Acacia Pinot Noir 2001. We sipped cabernet sauvignon while eating lamb loin and morels in a cabernet reduction. Lime sorbet was soothingly delicious and chocolates and marzipan provided a sweet finish to an evening of grand dining.

Service was attentive. The natural colored dining room is quietly elegant.

The Veranda, the Four Seasons, 3960 La Vegas Blvd. South, Tel. 888-632-5000, 702-632-5000.

Culture has been asserting itself in Sin City. Ballet and creative theater enthusiasts might enjoy the marvelous production of Mystere, one of Cirque du Soleil’s two local productions. The graceful, skilled gymnasts who perform in Mystere, a sensitive celebration of life, combine dancing with acrobatics. The color, music, talent and joy of this show make it easy to understand why it has been playing twice nightly for a decade.

Mystere, Treasure Island, 3300 Las Vegas Blvd. South. Tel. 800-392-1999, 702-796-9999

If you like aquariums, head for Shark Reef. Dangerous and exotic aquatic animals swim in 14 water venues including one that houses a sunken pirate ship. Crocodiles, lizards, sea jellies, eels and turtles are a few of the more than 2,500 specimens. Shark Reef is meant to educate as well as entertain. Hand-held audio guides help with that task.

Shark Reef, Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South .Tel. 877-632-7000.

The Guggenheim Hermitage Museum is now showing its second exhibition "Art through the Ages: Masterpieces from Titian to Picasso." Works borrowed from New York’s Guggenheim, St. Petersburg’s Hermitage and Vienna’s Kunsthisorisches Museums range from 15th-century Renaissance to 20th-century modern. In a well-edited show of 39 masterpieces, the key moments in the development of Western painting are represented. Canvases by Darer, Poisson, Tintoretto, van Dyck, Velazquez, Delacroix, Cezanne, Picasso and Kandinsky take the viewer on a journey through the centuries ending with Pollack, de Kooning and Lichtenstein.

Guggeheim Hermitage Museum, The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Tel. 702-414-2440.

Summer 2003

Las Vegas

Neon City Remade

Las Vegas is on a roll again. Ever since "Bugsy" Siegel planted the Flamingo Hotel in Nevada in 1946, the town’s modus operandi has been compulsive development. In the ‘80s, Las Vegas tried to go mainstream and transform itself into a destination resort as well as a gambling mecca. Up went casino hotels with theme parks, exploding volcanoes and pyrotechnic sea battles.

In its present reincarnation Disneyland in the desert is journeying upscale with all-suite pricey luxe resorts, cutting edge cuisine and shopping that rivals Madison Avenue. Gambling is still the major industry, but there is so much going on in Las Vegas that vacationers never have to sit at the gaming tables or put coins in the slots for entertainment.

You can travel the world along the three- and one-half-mile Strip that houses a string of dramatic hotels. Almost every one of them has entertainment based on the hotel’s concept. Much is free; a nominal fee gains entrance to others.

Ride the Manhattan Express Roller Coaster at New York-New York. Ascend to the top of the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas. Let a gondolier guide you through the canal at The Venetian. Look out over all of Las Vegas and the surrounding area from the top of the 1,149-foot tower at Stratosphere. See a mini-zoo at Mirage, home of the White Tiger Habitat, the Secret Garden with six rare animal breeds and the Dolphin Habitat. Stop at King Tut’s Tomb in Luxor, a recreation of ancient Egypt. Watch Merlin the Magician battle a fire-breathing dragon in the moat at Excalibur, a copy of King Arthur’s castle. Explore the aquarium that houses sharks, crocodiles and rare fish at Mandalay Bay, designed to simulate the South Seas. Enjoy the circus acts at Circus-Circus. At Bellagio’s eight-acre Lake Como there is a dancing water show with 1,200 fountains.

In Las Vegas where imagination has taken hold and revitalized the city, visiting the hotels is a major part of the amusement.


Some consider the Big Apple to be the capital of the world. New York-New York Hotel & Casino has brought the magic and excitement of the original city that never sleeps to the eponymous hotel. The façade replicates 12 famous Manhattan skyscrapers, the Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, Soldiers & Sailors Monument and a Coney Island roller coaster. Enter the cavernous casino lobby and a pageant of famous neighborhoods and landmarks vie for your attention.

New York-New York Hotel & Casino

Greenwich Village is the one that is most faithfully represented. Hook and Ladder Company No. 9 is the area’s firehouse and the Christopher St. Station is the local stop on the IRT. The section of small townhouses and tenements features store fronts of TV and shoe repair shops, a hardware emporium, laundry, fortune teller and informal eateries and cafés with sidewalk dining.

The Coney Island Emporium has boardwalk attractions from earlier decades, such as carnival games, shooting galleries and a giant scale to "guess your weight."

Design elements also reflect the history, color and diversity of Park Avenue, Central Park, Times Square, Broadway and the Financial District. Adding to the realism are lamp posts, trees and manhole covers spewing steam. New York treats–Nathan’s hot dogs, soft pretzels and Haagen Daz ice cream–are sold at the snack bars.

Guests are housed in 12 adjoining skyscraper towers named for famous buildings, such as the Empire State, Century and Chrysler Buildings and the New Yorker Hotel.

New York-New York Hotel & Casino, 3790 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas, NV 89109. Tel. 1-888-696-9887, 702-740-6969 . Rates begin at $59. http://www.nynyhotelcasino.com


Blackstone’s Steak House has a look that is typical for its genre. The clubby dimly-lighted saloon atmosphere is carried out with stained glass windows, comfortable leather banquettes, beveled mirrors and small shaded table lamps. A spritely Mediterranean salad ordered as a starter had fresh greens and beans that were cooked just right. The balsamic vinegar dressing with which it was tossed was excellent. Meats are grilled on a mesquite charcoal broiler. Roasted prime rib of beef was juicy and flavorful. The porterhouse, the featured steak on the menu and the most expensive, was neither tender nor tasty. Most of it was left on the plate. Portions were unnecessarily oversized. Some of the side dishes also suffered. Mushrooms were bland and a "colossal" baked potato missed the mark, possibly because it had been on a steam table too long.

A dessert of crème bruleé with a crisp crunchy topping that had been properly browned was at the top of its class.

Blackstone’s Steakhouse, Monte Carlo Hotel, 3770 Las Vegas Blvd. S. Tel. 702-730-7777. 888-529-4828. Expensive. www.monte-carlo.com/superset.php3/dining/blackstone.php3

The name Chinois, which means Chinese in French, hints that this restaurant is no ordinary Asian establishment, but is a temple of haute cuisine. Cantonese and Hong Kong style dishes with American and French touches are featured here. The menu changes daily and also includes Japanese specialties–crisp tofu, shrimp tempura, barbecued salmon and seared tuna. There is a complete sushi menu and several Japanese beers and sakes to accompany them. Not too many restaurants serving Chinese food can produce admirable sushi and sashimi, but at Chinois the raw fish is pristine and beautifully presented.

Two of the best entrées are the Shanghai lobster in a coconut curry sauce and the terrific charcoal grilled Szechwan beef with wasabi potato puree and caramelized shallot sauce.

All desserts incorporate the flavors of fresh fruit. The passion fruit cheesecake with candied tangerines gets star billing.

Rare artifacts from Asia decorate the two-level restaurant with its Zen-like rock garden, water fountain and yin and yang motif.

Chinois, The Forum Shops at Caesars, 3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S, Tel. 702-369-0360. Moderately expensive.

Dining in Venice under the open sky is a memorable experience. Dining at Postrio in The Venetian’s St Mark’s Square at the Grand Canal Shoppes is just as unforgettable. When you sit on the patio and look up it is almost impossible to believe that you are inside. The sky is blue, the clouds are feathery, the air is cool and dusk is at hand. Of course, you can sit indoors in the formal dining room, but you would miss the strolling musicians and singers dressed as though they were entertaining the Medicis and all the other street action in the piazza.

The cooking, unique fusions of European and Asian styles, is glorious. For starters shrimp were wrapped in prosciutto and grilled with melon, watercress and radicchio, which produced a contrast in textures. A fluffy blini as big as the plate was covered with house-smoked salmon, dill crème fraiche–a nice counterpoint to the fish–and a dab of caviar.

For entrees quail was accompanied by crisp miniature ricotta gnocchi and stuffed with seasoned bread and herbs. Roasted veal loin came with tiny ravio-lini filled with three sharp cheeses. The kitchen’s strong suit is its use of the best ingredients and pairing combinations that work well together.

Fine wines are served by the glass. Apricot tarte tatin and lemon meringue pie are among the outstanding desserts.

Postrio, The Venetian, 3377 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Tel. 702-796-1110. Moderately expensive. http://www.venetian.com/dining/dining.cfm?ID=2

Wolfgang Puck started the Las Vegas restaurant revolution when he opened Spago, a duplicate of his celebrity-studded Los Angeles hangout, in the Caesar’s Forum Shops in 1992. He had been an instant success when a decade earlier he and his wife unveiled Spago on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. Adam Tihany, America’s pre-eminent restaurant architect, designed the stunning surroundings. Whimsical sculptures hang in the colorful two-story premises and an open kitchen adds to the informality.

California style cuisine with trademark Puck touches is served, including his signature pizzas; he was the first chef to use innovative toppings.

A basket of herb crackers and olive bread baked in-house was irresistible. Veal sweetbreads were crusted with brioche crumbs so that the finished dish had crisp exteriors, but remained delicate on the inside. Scampi style shrimp were prepared with distinction and superbly complemented by tomato orzo, garlic, chili flakes and arugula pesto.

Spago’s desserts shine, too. What could be better than a Macadamia nut tart or melting warm chocolate cake? Nothing except, perhaps, some of the other sweets on the menu.

Spago, The Forum Shops at Caesars, 3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S, Tel. 702-369-6300. Moderately expensive.


The real sizzle–the entertainment–hasn’t changed direction; hence, Broadway need not worry about competition. Would you really want to see Stoppard, Shakespeare or serious theater in this environment? New extravaganzas spearheaded by modern technology and talented performers keep getting better and better. Unlike the Great White Way, no evening is completely dark and most shows have early and late curtain times. If you’re so inclined, you can comfortably take in two in one night. Why not live it up!

Joan Rivers is probably jealous of Frank Marino’s wardrobe. While impersonating her as M. C. for An Evening at La Cage, he introduces each song wearing a different and glamorous Bob Mackie gown. What style! Marino is a great comic, too, and has the audience laughing at a volley of jokes. What perfect timing!

The rest of the cast is also fantastic at mimicry. Their mannerisms, make-up, clothing and wigs are so convincing that it takes a while to figure out that they are lip-syncing. Images of some of the real singers in performance are projected onto two large screens and heighten the perception that the stars themselves–Bette Midler, Cher, Celine Dion, Judy Garland, Liza Minelli, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, Tina Turner and Michael Jackson–are on stage. For 15 years a changing cast has been strutting its stuff. "Joan Rivers" just got a new 10-year contract and not at QVC or Fox but at the Riviera.

An Evening at La Cage, The Riviera, 2901 Las Vegas Blvd. Tel. 702-794-9433. http://www.rivierahotel.com/entertainment_lacage.asp

Blue Man Group is post-modern theater at its best and yet at the same time it is a throw back to the psychedelic happenings of the ‘60s when actors parodied the absurdity of modern life. Violent music is coordinated with visual modes, flashing lights, dissident images and hallucinatory visions. The audience is very much part of the performance, which begins the moment you take your seat. There’s no wait for the show to begin. The genuine and the contrived score with the crowd who love the streamers that snake around the hall creating large and inclusive sculptures. And that is the point for there is nothing that is mocked as much as modern art. To create paintings the Blue Men fling balls of dye out of their mouths and an actor in a paint-splattered suit is hung upside down and thrown against a canvas. The disdain for advertising and business in the revolutionary ‘60s is shown in a farce about dry cereal.

The three indistinguishable and silent Blue Men are reminiscent of "Waiting For Godot." Among the references is "Alice in Wonderland" as a prototype of a fantasy world. To illustrate the sensory overload in today’s world, the production’s funniest moments are when the men quickly turn over 12 posters. You are supposed to read only one of them, but you try to read them all, which is absurd and impossible.

You come away having been richly entertained and in awe of the imagination of Blue Man Group.

Blue Man Group, Luxor, 3900 Las Vegas Blvd. South. Tel. 702-262-4400, 800-557-7428, http://www.blueman.com/ticketinfo/lasvegas.shtm

If you think Irish dancing is revelers doing a jig at a county get-together, think again. Producer-director Michael Flatley has taken it to another level in his production, Lord of the Dance. Based on his association with Celtic music, dance and legend, Flatley stretched the boundaries into an accelerated version of traditional Irish dance. Performing with the precision of the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall the troupe taps, leaps, pivots and moves dreamily across the stage to act out a story filled with symbolism about the forces of good in combat with the forces of evil. In a contest for the Lord the virtuous woman wins against the temptress. A Pan-like spirit sprinkles stardust as protection, but, nevertheless, her opponents break her flute. The Lord magically restores it. Interspersed between the segments are a soloist who sings lovely ballads and also two young women who play violins. Many of the numbers are rousing and all the performers are talented.

"O" Cirque du Soleil (credit: Joan Marcus)

In the Canadian province of Quebec street theater is a prevalent form of merriment. Nearly two decades ago in Baie-Saint Paul a crowd gathered to marvel at the showmanship of fire eaters, jugglers and stilt-walkers. The performers responded by organizing a festival, which grew into the renowned Cirque du Soleil, an original kind of creative mix: sophisticated circus art and polished street entertainment. Twelve productions later "O" at the Bellagio is, perhaps, the most unique. Performed entirely in, on and above water, "O" is the phonetic pronunciation of the French word for water "eau." It may be no accident that Bellagio, a resort whose theme is also water, was chosen as the setting in which to construct an intricate aquatic environment, one whose water levels change to accommodate each act. Dancing and acrobatics, as well as swimming, are the mediums through which this magical story is told.

Haunting music, striking costumes, stunning props, magnetic lighting, a daring cast and brilliant creators add up to dazzling theater.

"O",Cirque du Soleil, Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S. Tel. 702-796-9999, 888-488-7111. www.bellagiolasvegas.com/pages/ent_main.asp

Siegfried & Roy have been illusionists for over 30 years, the last 10 of them at Mirage, and yet, they appear to be ageless, perhaps because they "create fantasies, awe, wonderment and dreams of the child within." This is no mere magic show with card tricks and rabbits, but a spectacle in which the leads think of themselves as storytellers. Not only do they succeed in accomplishing the inconceivable on an epic scale, but they also have you believing that they are the "masters of the impossible."

The pageantry and costuming are mind-boggling. With great panache and backed by dancers and actors, they handle fire, float on air and disappear only to reappear in unlikely places. Siegfried and Roy are known for their great devotion to their rare white tigers and lions, which are an important part of the production. In a movie of them frolicking with the animals at home, their love and concern are unmistakable.

In Las Vegas where resort themes and entertainment are matched the Mirage features a rain forest and animal sanctuary.

Siegfried & Roy, The Mirage, 3400 Las Vegas Blvd. S. Tel. 702-792-7777, 800-627-6667. www.themirage.com/pages/ent_seig.asp


It’s ironic that Las Vegas, the capital of make-believe, is not far from one of the true great wonders of the natural world, the Grand Canyon. When you want a break from fantasy, you can visit the Canyon on a one day or overnight excursion. Scenic Airlines picks up visitors at 7 a.m. at their hotels and transfers them to the airport. One hour later a 14-seater is airbourne. The flight is as important as the destination. Because the plane flies low, you can see the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead and the Colorado River and its tributaries. The Canyon is actually a 250-mile gorge in the Colorado River located in northwestern Arizona and known for its unusual shapes and colorations. The vast network of gullies, chasms and fissures must be seen from above. Each passenger has his own headset for listening to a running narration about the sites over which the pilot flies and anecdotes about the formation and the exploration of the region.

After a one hour and 15 minute flight the plane lands near the Canyon’s rim. Buses transport the group to Grand Canyon National Park for a spectacular real life look at the canyon from two different viewing spots. As familiar as the site seems because it is so frequently photographed, the true awesome beauty must be seen in person. Before departing for Las Vegas the participants are fed a buffet lunch at a local hotel restaurant. The only downer on the entire trip was the meal, which was so dreadful that any fast food outlet would have been preferable.

Day-trippers arrive back at their hotels at 3 p.m. Afternoon tours are also available. The advantage of taking an overnight excursion is that depending on the time of year you can see the sun set or rise over the canyon. Anyone who has ever been at the edge of the canyon at dusk or dawn says that the experience is phenomenal.

Scenic Airlines, 2705 Airport Dr., N. Las Vegas, NV 89032. Tel. (702) 638-3300,1-800-634-6801. www.scenicairlines.com

Winter 2000-01