Beard hardware, pumped-up brunch and Señor Frog’s takes a leap

The James Beard Awards have been announced for 2011, and Saipin Chutima of Lotus of Siam has been honored with Best Chef in the Southwest, tied with Tyson Cole of Uchi, in Austin, Texas. Chutima opened a Lotus of Siam in New York City last fall, and in my opinion, that’s what put her over the top for one of these New York-centric awards.

There was a Vegas connection for a national chef award as well. Outstanding Chef in the U.S. went to the irrepressible José Andrés, who has three restaurants at the Cosmopolitan, many in his Washington, D.C., home base, and oddly, not a one in New York. Congratulations, chefs.

On a more acidic note, master sommelier and wine director at Bellagio’s Picasso, Robert Smith, a finalist for the Best Wine Service category, was passed over once again. He is getting to be the Susan Lucci of the Beard House.

Sam DeMarco is one of our most creative chefs, but sometimes the likeable New York native flies under the radar. He practically started the small-plate phenomenon, and now, at First Food & Bar (in the Shoppes at the Palazzo, 607-3478), he’s doing a spate of them for Sunday brunch, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays, and don’t bother counting calories.

Just a few of the absurdly indulgent entries are cinnamon-bun French toast, bananas Foster flamed at table, warm goat cheese soufflé and, since chicken isn’t enough for this guy, fried lobster tail and waffles in a lobster corn gravy. A Bloody Mary cart passes your table at intervals.

Meanwhile, the Strip seemingly can’t get enough of faux tropical and Mexican places such as Kahunaville, Margaritaville or Hussong’s, and now Phil Ruffin and his team at the TI tell us that the hotel has signed a multi-year lease with the concept Mexican restaurant Señor Frog’s.

This will be the second Señor Frog’s location in the contiguous 48 states. (Señor Frog’s operates bar and restaurant locations in Myrtle Beach, Mexico, the Caribbean and Hawaii.) The hotel is shooting for an opening in the late fall.

Finally, the Pub at Monte Carlo (730-7420) now offers a new menu, an expanded beer list and the return of dueling pianos, according to vice president of food and beverage at the resort, Ari Kastrati.

Small-plate options include the Pub crunchy potato (a ball of mashed potatoes rolled in panko crumbs), mac and cheese with smoked Gouda, Parmesan and fontina, and fajita chicken nachos. Big plates such as Creole crawfish boil or oven-roasted whole chicken should satisfy the biggest appetites. 250 (count ’em) beers are being poured.

Hungry, yet?

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This fun restaurant will make you feel like a kid again, especially when it comes time for dessert. And this specialty of the house was a secret recipe that even Jackie O. couldn’t get hold of. An icy blend of rich cocoa and 20 different varieties of chocolate are topped with whipped cream. It comes with two straws for sharing. $10-$14, in Caesars Palace, 731-7373.