Las Vegas Restaurants Get Fair Shake in Survey
Top chefs have helped put Las Vegas on the national culinary map, and in the annual Zagat report.
Andre Rochat, owner and chef of Andre’s restaurants located downtown and in the Monte Carlo hotel, shows off some of the French dishes that garnered a food rating of 27 out of a possible 30 in the Zagat Survey. Andre’s was ranked as the top restaurant in Las Vegas, which has greatly improved its reputation for fine dining.
As owner and chef of the top-rated restaurant in Las Vegas, Andre Rochat has witnessed first-hand the evolution of fine dining here from the standard fare of meat and potatoes to world-class cuisine.
When he established Andre’s restaurant 20 years ago at 401 S. Sixth St., Las Vegas was pretty much a dining wasteland. Food was an afterthought to gambling; a cheap meal was a marketing gesture to keep customers in the casino.
That’s all changed. Las Vegas has reinvented itself as a culinary destination. Many of today’s tourists are leaving more money at the dinner table than at the blackjack table.
Some of the credit goes to star chefs such as Wolfgang Puck, Joachim Splichal, and Emeril Lagasse, who’ve opened spin-offs of their well-known brands in upscale Strip mega-resorts.
Rochat, whose free-standing downtown restaurant was recently ranked No. 1 in Las Vegas in the highly respected Zagat Survey’s millennium edition, welcomes the competition.
“First of all, I think it’s great for all those restaurants to come to Las Vegas,” the Frenchman said. “I think the influx of new restaurants is great for people to experience different food. We’re fighting some big boys, but we’re tough.”
It’s places like Julian Serrano’s Picasso and Sirio Maccioni’s Le Cirque, both at Bellagio, that have helped put Las Vegas on the culinary map. Five years ago, Zagat rated hotels here, but not restaurants.
“Las Vegas used to offer almost second-rate food and give it away,” said Allan Ripp, a spokesman for Zagat in New York. “That’s changed as Las Vegas has become a family destination. Coincidental with that is you have to have a strong dining segment. The only thing that can compete with the hotels or the shows there is a great restaurant.”
For the first time in its history, Las Vegas is perceived by more visitors (50 percent) as an entertainment destination than as a gaming destination (48 percent), according to market research for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
The research found that Las Vegas offers an increasingly diversified mix of non-gaming amenities, and that 89 percent of those “more likely to visit” Las Vegas cite the non-gaming product as the primary reason.
Ripp cited the offerings of diverse ethnic cuisine in Las Vegas as a reflection of the health of the restaurant business here. “We couldn’t ignore it as a dining market anymore,” he said.
The Zagat Survey, which uses actual diners and its own area editors to rate restaurants on food, decor and service, lists 30 Las Vegas restaurants in the millennium edition.
Andre’s, the editors wrote, is “drippingly romantic.” The downtown location and its 2-year-old franchise in the Monte Carlo hotel were voted No. 1 for their “magnifique” fare, top-of-the-line wine cellar and unmatched atmosphere.
“Granted, the original location might be remote, and some say their most outstanding feature is the price, but for serious gourmets, they are unquestionably the finest in Las Vegas,” Zagat said.
The estimated cost of a dinner with one drink and a tip at Andre’s is $52.
Rounding out the top 10 in Las Vegas were Michael’s, Portofino, Steak House, Emeril’s New Orleans, Palace Court, Drai’s on the Strip, Monte Carlo, Suzette’s and Second Street Grill.
“Over the last 20 years, the growth of fine dining has been nothing less than astonishing,” Nina and Tim Zagat wrote in the foreword of the survey.
A number of factors lie behind this development, they said. The rise of women in the work place, for one, has translated into more meals being taken outside the home, so that an entire generation has become accustomed to dining out with more frequency than in the past.
Generous expense accounts and a robust economy further fuel the trend.
Restaurant spending has shown marked increases in key markets, the survey found. It’s up 7.5 percent in Boston, 6 percent in Los Angeles and San Francisco and 5 percent in New York.
Nonetheless, dining out across America, at an average tab of $24, remains a major bargain compared with international capitals such as Paris and London, which average as high as $46 a meal.
Poor service remains the biggest dining irritant nationally among regular restaurant-goers, and 83 percent of Zagat surveyors believe men are treated better than women when dining out.
“There is no secret in our business,” Rochat said. “No. 1, you look for quality ingredients before price. Then it’s service, friendly service. You want someone to give you what you want without being snobbish. When a customer comes into your place, he’s doing you a favor. You’re not doing him a favor.
“Then you have to have the right people to prepare the food. It doesn’t take a genius (to be a chef). You need someone who cares and has pride in what they’re doing.”
Van Heffner, president and chief executive officer of the Nevada Restaurant Association, said Las Vegas has truly taken fine dining to another level.
“The entertainment scene has really captured the spirit of visitors to Las Vegas,” he said. “People come here for memorable dining and ambiance that 10 years ago was really limited.
“World travelers are calling us and visiting our Web site to get what kind of dining experience they want. People love to dine and they want something different. I’m really proud of what we’ve created in Las Vegas.”
The 2000 Zagat Survey of America’s top restaurants is available online in the Zagat Survey website.
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