Las Vegas

Someone Is Poaching the Great Chefs of Europe

Las Vegas chef-hunting has been going on for decades. Many agree it began with the advent of desert pioneers Charlie Palmer, Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller, and others, but it's that characteristic raising of the bar that has now made Vegas a stop on the gourmand's tour of the world. There are now 25 three-star restaurants throughout Clark County, and four four-star restaurants: Aureole (Mandalay Bay), Bradley Ogden (Caesars Palace), Michael Mina and Picasso (both at Bellagio).

The latest chefs to be wooed to the desert are Michelin Guide all-stars Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon, both of whom hail from the gastronomic paradise of France. Last year, Mix opened atop the 1,117-suite THEhotel at Mandalay Bay, with new cuisine inspired by the world-renowned Ducasse as well as signature dishes from Ducasse's restaurants in Paris and Monte Carlo.

This fall, the MGM Grand introduced two new restaurants by Chef Robuchon; one at The Mansion, which features a setting more like the chef's own dining room than a restaurant, and a second, L'Atelier du Joel Robuchon, which resembles the Parisian restaurant of the same name. In opening these restaurants, Robuchon declared, "Las Vegas has become one of the culinary capitals of the world, and I look forward to playing a role in this continued evolution." He added, "Bringing L'Atelier to MGM Grand makes complete sense, as the hotel is known for offering an array of dining experiences for each guest. L'Atelier provides the opportunity to experience my food in a causal, easy dining environment." This is Robuchon's first entree into the U.S. market; he has also established his L'Atelier brand in Tokyo.

Show Capital of the World

As everyone is aware, Las Vegas has ascended to the same level as New York and London when it comes to theater and big-name entertainment. Joining the ever-popular "Mama Mia!" at the Mandalay Bay, "Zumanity" at New York-New York (both in their second year), and Celine Dion at Caesars, are these new shows:

• "KA," the fourth resident Cirque du Soleil show on the Las Vegas Strip, debuted last February at MGM Grand. Billed as Cirque's most theatrical show yet, it is an Asian influenced "epic saga of separated twins (a boy and a girl) who embark on a perilous journey to fulfill their linked destinies" that uses acrobatics, martial arts, puppetry, multimedia, and pyrotechnics to tell the story.

• The new Cirque du Soleil production opening next summer at The Mirage plays homage to the musical legacy of The Beatles in a live theater production.

• Last February, Barry Manilow's new show, "Manilow: Music and Passion," opened at the Las Vegas Hilton, including all his hits as well as new material written specifically for Las Vegas.

• "Le Reve," (French for "The Dream") opened last spring in a specially designed 2,080-seat domed theater-in-the-round venue at Wynn Las Vegas, with 70 performers moving in and out of a one-million-gallon pool.

• In September, Wynn Las Vegas became home to the Tony award-winning musical, "Avenue Q," The acclaimed musical is housed in a $48-million 1,180-seat Broadway-style theater where no seat is further than 75 feet from the stage.

• Monty Python's "Spamalot" will begin performing in 2007 at Wynn Las Vegas in a new 1,600-seat theater to be constructed for the show (which is an abridged 90-minute version of the two-hour Broadway production).

• "Hairspray," the 2003 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, begins an open-ended run at the Luxor later this year.

• "Phantom of the Opera" is scheduled to debut next summer in a new $25-million theater being built at The Venetian specifically to house the legendary musical, with elements such as an exploding replica of the Paris Opera House chandelier.

The Shopping Experience

The ability to shop in Vegas has reached epic proportions. Last year, the Forum Shops at Caesars completed an expansion with new merchants and restaurants, including Harry Winston jewels, Juicy Couture, Joe's Prime Steak, Seafood, and Stone Crab restaurant (of South Beach fame). The $175-million Hawaiian Marketplace also opened; the complex is modeled after the International Market in Honolulu and features Samoan fire-knife dancers and Team Aloha, which leads crowds in dancing, storytelling, and craft-making.

Also last year, the final pieces of Mandalay Place, the complex of 41 shops and restaurants located in the sky bridge between Mandalay Bay and Luxor resorts, were completed. Several chic stores there are willing to work with planners to provide an exclusive experience to groups with a theme connected to their store. At one of those, 55 Degrees of Wine + Design at Mandalay Place, an event for up to 100 people can include a sommelier discussing wine vintage and style. The party can also feature refined gifts like a special air bag that goes around wine bottles, so the meeting participants can take their purchases home without worrying about dropping and breaking the precious items.

Also on the Strip, Fashion Show Mall, which is now nearly two million sf, attracts more than 10 million annually to its name department stores (Saks, Bloomingdale's, Dillard's, and Neiman Marcus) and 200-plus stores. The mall has its own 80-foot retractable runway in the multipurpose "Great Hall" and a unique "cloud" structure that functions as a multimedia screen known as the Media Curve, broadcasting from four screens.

Out in Primm, on the California/Nevada border, Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas recently added eight new stores, including the only Michael Kors store in the West.

Want to send your incentive winners home with a sumptuous product that reminds them of their travel reward? Finding that perfect teaser or pillow gift is now only a click away, with many of the major meetings resorts of Las Vegas now offering souvenirs and unique gift items on their Web site. Here are just a few: www.mandalaybay.com, www.luxor.com, www.monte carlo.com, www.excalibur.com, and nynyhotelcasino.com.