New blood for Le Cirque, great Chicago pizza and thinking inside the bento box

The long wait for a new chef is over at Bellagio’s Le Cirque. He is Gregory Pugin, a disciple of Joël Robuchon, and the man is positively brilliant. Now, the once-staid menu here has two distinct sections—classic and contemporary—so that Pugin can show off his creative side without depriving longtime customers of their favorite dishes.

I was anxious to taste the new items, and my instincts were right on. Pugin makes what might be the best steak tartare I’ve ever tasted—an exquisite rectangle of Australian Wagyu beef and condiments, flanked by Heirloom tomatoes and lotus chips.

Citrus-marinated New Zealand langoustines topped with Oscetra caviar are delicately set on a nest of tapioca, passion fruit and tiny cubes of apple gelée. One spectacular main course is composed of Loch Duart salmon from Scotland, with braised Savoy cabbage, bacon and miniature gnocchi with Parmesan. Pugin’s cooking is as visually stunning as it is stunningly good. The Maccioni family should be happy.

Out at Lake Las Vegas, Loews Las Vegas also has a new executive chef. He is Mark Leighton Ching, and he has more than 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry. “I love spicy and sweet flavors,” says Ching, and we’ll find out as he redoes the menu at Rick’s Café, the hotel’s three-meal restaurant. Loews is already home to an excellent Japanese restaurant, Marssa.

Over at Mandarin Oriental in CityCenter, the chefs at MOzen Bistro (888-881-9367) are doing bento boxes from 6-10 p.m. The idea was inspired by the famous Japanese box lunch eaten on subways, at baseball games and in the office, so purists might think it odd it’s being offered for supper. But this is a nontraditional bento, which guests customize to taste. It is presented in a lacquered box, with options that include dishes from Thailand, Southeast Asia, Japan, Korea and India. For $48, select six small plates with rice and condiments, such as a blackened albacore tuna tataki, pad thai with shrimp or malai murgh (Indian McNuggets, if you will), crusted with cream cheese, cardamom and cashews.

Finally, Chicago natives are raving about Aurelio’s, a place for both deep-dish and thin-crust Chicago-style pizzas, with locations at 7660 W. Cheyenne Ave. (367-4992) and 10960 S. Eastern Ave. in Henderson (456-3900). I’ve only tried the Super Six specialty pizza—topped with sausage, cheese, green pepper, ham, pepperoni and mushroom—and I’d have to agree that this is awesome stuff.

Hungry, yet?

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