Kenley and I couldn’t eat our way through Vegas without having at least one burger — or more.
So on our last full day in Vegas, we headed to the Burger Bar in the Shoppes at Mandalay Place. Burger Bar is the concept of chef Hubert Keller, who is known for his flagship restaurant Fleur de Lys in San Francisco. (You can also find his Fleur restaurant in Mandalay Bay.)
The Burger Bar’s menu is similar to The Counter burger chain, in that you can build your own burger from a selection of meats, buns and toppings. There’s also a selection of “chef’s burger” combinations if you don’t want to make the decision all on your own.
We passed on the $60 Rossini burger, which has a Kobe beef patty with foie gras and shaved truffles on the top. Instead, I ordered the chef’s peppercorn burger with pepper-jack cheese. Kenley built his own burger and ordered an American Kobe beef patty with blue cheese and caramelized onions on a whole-wheat bun.
My patty was thick, but the peppercorn burger wasn’t as flavorful as I expected. However, the buttermilk zucchini fries I ordered on the side were excellent. They tasted like fried cheese sticks, especially when dipped into a marinara sauce.
Kenley said his burger was good and tender, but rather unremarkable for a Kobe patty.
We barely had room for dessert, but how could we possibly resist the sweet “dessert” burger? After all, that’s one of the main reasons I had chosen the Burger Bar over all the other burger joints in Vegas. (And Vegas is no place to practice moderation).
The sweet burger had a “patty” of chocolate, “buns” of donuts, strawberries as “ketchup,” kiwi as “lettuce,” and a thin slice of mango as “cheese.”
The restaurant is a little gimicky, and the burgers were among the most expensive we have tried. Plus, they still don’t rank in the top five. (You can read the Las Vegas Journal Review’s thoughts about the Burger Bar here.) Still, it’s a perfect spot for Sin City, and I’ll go back to the Burger Bar to try the “adult” milkshakes. You can choose among ice cream flavors, liquors, and fruit and candy toppings.
Naturally, we were moving slowly after a lunch like that. But we still managed to find our way to the Nine Fine Irishmen pub in the New York-New York casino for a drink — and to honor Kenley O’Higgins Young’s heritage.
The pub is billed as one of the most authentic you can find outside of Ireland because it was actually designed and built in Ireland and shipped to the United States. Of course, it’s still located inside a totally faux New York. (You can read about the company that designed the Nine Fine Irishmen in this L.A. Times article.)
Less authentic were the two Jameson girls who came into the bar and offered a “free” Jameson’s ski cap to anyone who would buy a shot. Kenley was happy to oblige — and to pose.
From New York, we headed to the Bellagio, where an art piece by glass sculptor Dale Chihuly decorates the lobby ceiling. The piece, called Fiori di Como, is made up of 2,000 hand-blown glass blossoms.
The Columbia Art Museum in my hometown of Columbia, S.C., boasts a Chihuly piece, as does one of the longest yachts in the world, which we spotted in Marina Del Rey late last year. (Read more about that vessel, the Attessa IV, here.)
You can also click here to read an interesting article from the Seattle Times about the business behind Chihuly’s art.
The botanical gardens off the lobby were elaborately decorated for the Chinese New Year. The Bellagio reportedly hires 140 botanical experts to maintain the gardens. (In L.A., Kenley and I welcomed the Year of the Dragon by attending the Dragon Parade in Chinatown. You can read about it and watch a video of the parade here.)
We returned to the Venetian casino for dinner at Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, by celebrity chef Mario Batali. Our arugula salad and shaved parmigiano salad was refreshing, but the prosciutto arugula pizza was just OK. Perhaps we should have ordered a pasta dish, but that just seemed too heavy after our lunch.
We did order gelato for dessert, and the three flavors we tried — chocolate, salted caramel and peanut butter — tasted like a candy bar! I was disappointed in the food, but the atmosphere under the faux Venetian sky was nice.
Batali’s Pizzeria Mozza here in L.A. is on our list of places to try, if we can get a reservation. Batali’s partner Nancy Silverton is a finalist for the James Beard Outstanding Chef award. We tried her new Short Order burger restaurant several months ago. (Read about it here.)
We made one final stop on our way back to Los Angeles — Smashburger. It’s located just off the strip near UNLV and the airport.
Smashburger is a national chain with East Coast locations in North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The concept is a mix between California’s In-N-Out Burger, The Counter burger and Five Guys. I like Smashburger because it gives you more options than just burgers. In addition to five kinds of “smashburgers” and a create-your-own-burger menu, there are five chicken burgers, four salads, three hot dogs, a veggie burger, a selection of nine sides, and milkshakes and floats. (Kenley and I agree that if Five Guys has a weakness, it’s the lack of dessert options.)
Smashburgers, as the name suggests, are prepared by smashing balls of beef, which supposedly caramelizes the meat, creating a sear that locks in the juices. The result is a burger that tastes a little like Wendy’s old square burgers, but much thicker.
And they do have a lot of flavor. I ordered the Classic Smashburger, which comes with lettuce, red onions, pickles and American cheese. The vegetable toppings tasted as fresh and crispy as In-N-Out. Kenley ordered the All-American, which does not have tomatoes and comes with mustard instead of a special sauce.
Smashburger actually ranks as one of my favorite fast-casual burger places. The patty and bun at Five Guys might be better, but what Smashburger offers is pretty close. Plus, you get more choices.
We both particularly liked the “smashfries,” which are tossed with rosemary, olive oil and garlic. Kenley says those were the standout items. And, of course, I had the sweet-potato smashfries.
Smashburger, based in Denver, is reportedly entering the Los Angeles burger market this year.
Where’s your favorite place to eat in Vegas? Leave us your recommendations in the comments section. Kenley and I are returning in June.