THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF PEOPLE --those who vacation in Las Vegas and those who don't.
Count me among the latter. The last time I was in Vegas was about 20 years ago. A friend and I had planned to drive from California and stay three days.
We should have known Lady Luck wasn't on that trip when the Ford Pinto borrowed from an LAPD sheriff broke down three times in the desert. Once we got to the California Hotel we proceeded to lose about $500 between us.
Without sleeping or eating between sundown and sunrise, we bid adieu to Vegas in the morning, preferring to take our chances on the drive back across the desert.
Turn to the next page of this section for reviews of some of the Las Vegas restaurants that are the subject of much buzz:
For Hawaii folk, buffets and bargains still rule:
These days, there is a new, less painful reason to go to Vegas. Go for the food. It's no longer necessary to zip across the country to sample the award-winning cuisine of such superstar chefs as Todd English (Olives, Boston), Mark Miller (Coyote Cafe, N.M.; Red Sage, Washington, D.C.) or Michael Mina (Aqua, San Francisco) because the biggest names in the culinary industry all have set up shop in Las Vegas, second home to many a Hawaii resident.
Sure, you can still get a $1.99 shrimp cocktail at the Holiday Inn and the lunch buffets will run you less than $9, but you're a gambler aren't you?
The casinos that house the grand restaurants are betting that people are willing to trade chewy fried chicken and soggy vegetables from a buffet for meals worthy of princes, CEOs and your average high-roller.
Gotta give Las Vegas credit for planning. The city stands to lose visitor traffic within the next 10 years now that casino gambling has been approved in California. The city of kitsch is attempting to kiss up to the cultured crowd by opening Guggenheim and Hermitage Museum annexes to the Venetian. If that doesn't work, Vegas' growing reputation as an all-American theme park and food mecca is bound to keep tourists coming 'round a little while longer.
Now, if only the casinos could work on promoting the restaurants. In spite of the national press and accolades heaped on the chefs, gaming is still Las Vegas' No. 1 industry and most of the restaurants are shunted to the back of the casinos. You have to follow tiny signs that zigzag all over the place before you find your destination. All the while, the flashing lights of slot machines and knocking of dice at the craps tables beckon.
The goal is to win enough to finance your culinary adventures, but barring that, bring plenty of cash coz ooooh-weee or ow-weeee, meals at top tier restaurants will cost you no less than $200 (with tax and tip but without drinks.)
To put this in perspective, $200 will last a good two or three hours over dinner vs. 15 minutes at the roulette table.
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