Luxe Vegas

Michael’s is still among the best old-school gourmet rooms, and the experience still comes at a high price

Photo by Anthony MairThe fresh and tangy Maryland lump crab cocktail.

The Liberace Museum’s recent closing made me nostalgic for a brush with Old Vegas. “I’ll be seeing you,” his theme song went, “in all the old familiar places.”

Dinner at Michael’s at the South Point hotel-casino seemed like the perfect place. The restaurant moved lock, stock and barrel from its former home down the Strip at the Barbary Coast, where it operated for more than 25 years. But nothing else has changed: the red velvet walls, Tiffany skylight, the staff led by José Martel and his team of tuxedoed waiters, and certainly not the menu.

So when I told a fellow food journalist in New York I was going to be eating sautéed fresh mushrooms a la crème, Dover sole and Cherries Jubilee for dinner, the response was a gasp. “I don’t think there’s any restaurant in New York still doing that stuff,” she told me.

I’m happy to report that dinner at Michael’s is still first-rate. The one problem I have is the prices. Veal Francaise, a relic composed of veal in an egg batter, is well over $70, as are a good number of the entrées. Caesar salad is $25, which is outrageous for leaves and condiments, in spite of it being mixed with a flourish tableside.

And although the service is elegant, attentive and knowledgeable to the point of waiters being as close to mind readers as humanly possible, a meal at Michael’s is only justifiable on super special occasions, or if an expense account is involved.

That said, I liked almost everything I ate here. I requested my Caesar light on lemon juice, heavy on Worcestershire, and got what I asked for. The complimentary relish tray, a lazy Susan, is terrific; the pickled cauliflower and sun-dried tomatoes being two highlights. Meals begin with a basket of tiny pumpernickel cheese toast, which is also free.

Most of the classic continental dishes are done well. The onion soup gratinée is properly beefy and rich. Maryland lump crab cocktail has a tangy house cocktail sauce, and the meat is fresh and flaky. Michael’s creamed corn, a vegetable side dish, is a must. (Just remember that all items on this menu are a la carte and you won’t need smelling salts at check time.)

The Dover sole ($88), expertly boned, is the best in the city. Petite filet mignon ($68) is a good piece of beef, but you can do better farther up the Strip for a lot less, without the tired mushroom cap employed here. In between the appetizer and the entrée, you’ll get a tiny palate cleanser, a little sorbet. It’s another of the many nice touches here.

There are nice touches at dessert, as well. A tray of complimentary chocolate-covered fruits and petit fours is really satisfying, but if you want one of those old familiar desserts, there is bananas Foster ($25) or the Cherries Jubilee ($25), both excellent, plus a huge cart of pastries clothed in fresh whipped cream.

On my last visit, I may have been the youngest customer in the whole restaurant, and I’m a baby boomer. I guess nostalgia isn’t big with Gen X and Y’ers.

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If you’re in the mood for a fun experience, visit Capo’s Italian Steakhouse (5675 W. Sahara Ave., 364-2276), where the specialty is retro Italian. Now that the Liberace Museum is no more, this is about as kitsch as it gets in this town. Enter through a phone booth and be greeted by a made guy in a black suit. The dining room is kept dark, so you won’t be recognized, and it’s furnished with black leather booths. Most nights a singer does Bennett and Sinatra standards.