New shows and great steaks in Vegas - guest blog by Richard Ouzounian
This file comes from the Star's Richard Ouzounian
LAS VEGAS - There’s always something new going on in Sin City, which is what makes it such a live-wire place. I stopped by for a couple of days last week to catch up on some celebrity interviews and found – as usual – a lot of stuff to explore in the worlds of food, fun and fascinating goodies.
As far as Toronto residents go, the big news is the opening of the new International Terminal 3 as of June 28.
But that's all gone now! A terminal so fresh it still has that new-car smell, with lots of room, a killer duty-free shop and plenty of places to grab a bite, including Carl's, one of my favourite US fast-food chains.
Don't worry, there's still those kinda sad last-minute banks of slot machines, just so you don't think you've suddenly touched down in Minneapolis, but you'll love every other square inch of this new destination.
Once in the city, my work kept me close to the tight little area defined by three hotels (Paris, Planet Hollywood and MGM Grand), but I found more than enough to keep me occupied.
The MGM Grand, long one of the Strip’s landmarks, is in the middle of a giant reinvention and renovation, which they hope will result in rebranding it as the city’s major go-to destination. I stayed in one of the freshened-up rooms and am pleased to tell you that while maintaining a state-of-the-art sense of luxury, the overall effect is now much more big-city sophistication than wanton Vegas excess.
They also have one of the best large-scale performance arenas around, and their acts over the next little while include such superstar names as Madonna and our own Justin Bieber.
But at the other end of the spectrum, they’ve wisely let Brad Garrett (remember him as Ray Romano’s low-key brother on Everybody Loves Raymond?) open a basement comedy club which has a wonderfully retro feel about it, from the giant cocktails and outrageously clad waitresses to a solid format which puts a guest host – Garrett himself one week a month – in charge of three visiting comedians.
The material is even more adult than what you’ll find on cable, the packed houses love it and it has that rough-and-ready feel of the older Vegas which has sadly vanished over the years.
And for an example of the tremendous lineup of restaurants the Grand has always had available, pay a visit to Shibuya, a cool and elegant Japanese eaterie that has no bells and whistles, just superb cuisine, whether you’re looking for paper-thin yellowtail sashimi or a deeply indulgent order of Kobe short ribs with foie gras.
Planet Hollywood continues its crusade to snare the young, hip and happening crowd with an electric bar scene, a variety of cool clothing stores in its Miracle Mile shopping complex and some zappy entertainment.
Holly Madison and her XXX-rated Peepshow are running late some nights along with Surf!, a newly opened show that is just as much fun and something you can even take the teens to.
Kirstin Hanggi, whom Toronto will remember as the woman who directed Rock of Ages, is in charge here, but the show moves with a totally different aesthetic. This is happy-time California in the 1960s, with knockout video-wall projections that take you from beach to bedroom, while a sexy young cast belts out a score totally composed of Beach Boys hits. I’d be very happy to see this one in our fair city.
And next door at the Paris, Jersey Boys continues to pack ‘em in, with Toronto’s Aaron MacKenzie taking centre stage as Frankie Valli some evenings, but the big news here is on the culinary front, where Gordon Ramsay Steak, which has only been open for 8 weeks, and already has the crowds lining up when the doors open at 5:00 PM.
Having enjoyed a knockout dinner there, I can easily see why. There are dozens of steakhouses in this city, but Ramsay has cannily placed his own vivid stamp on the place.
The bar buzzes like a Vegas bar should, but the rest of the service is as white-glove perfect as you’d get at one of Ramsay’s European establishments. (The wine list arriving on an iPad is a nice, cool North American touch.)
When it comes to the steaks, they offer you a generous choice of top-of-the line cuts and I picked the 8 ounce American Kobe rib-eye which packed a powerhouse beefy punch in each bite.
But Ramsay hasn’t forgotten to include those suave Britain-meets-France dishes he based his reputation on and you can start with a creamy asparagus soup poured over a parmesan custard that results in melting delight.
I went on to his signature pork belly, glazed to perfection, served with swiss chard and marinated peaches and it totally blew me away.
Naming a favourite Vegas steakhouse is like picking a favourite one of your children, but right now, I've gotta tell ya that Gordon Ramsay Steak is looking mighty good to me.