Coffee and cupcakes, steak and martinis, and brunch according to Rick Moonen

There seems no end to the cupcake craze. The Plaza, which has totally redone its food-service venues, recently announced a pair of new ventures as of Sept. 1. One is Gigi’s Cupcakes, a national franchise started by a one-time cleaning lady in Nashville, Tenn. Today, the chain sells 10 million cupcakes a year in its 50-plus stores.

I tried several varieties at the location near the UNLV campus at 1150 E. Flamingo Road: German chocolate, red velvet, peanut butter cup and grasshopper—mint frosting laced with chocolate on a chocolate cake base. And I prefer them to the ones at the place that started the craze, Magnolia Bakery in New York City.

Meanwhile, down the hall by the Plaza’s reception area, veteran local chef Luigi Bomparola, has opened Cafelatte, a coffee bar that will offer Illy coffees, homemade pastries and 12 varieties of gelato. It will be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Top-notch vegetarian cooking is hard to find, but the always prolific and creative chef Michael Mina has thrown his hat in the ring. At his Aria restaurant, American Fish (590-8610), he has put together a five-course $65 vegetarian tasting menu for the month of September. Courses include grilled eggplant carpaccio with Thai coconut dressing, cashews and crispy garlic, and a wild mushroom potpie.

There is a new sheriff in town at the Hard Rock: 35 Steaks & Martinis (693-5585) just replaced Rare 120 as the hotel’s signature steak joint. The space has been rethought, and now boasts a cutting-edge design featuring black-pearl glass pendants suspended from the ceiling, abundant marble paneling and chocolate-color columns. Signature dishes include the Tomahawk, a 35-day dry-aged, 35-ounce steak bomb, to complement libations such as the 35 Gimlet, a cocktail with a Hendrick’s gin base and a fragrant cucumber essence.

Finally, fans of Rick Moonen, globetrotting chef champion of sustainable seafood, is taking on a new challenge: weekend brunch. Beginning Sept. 10th, RM Seafood will serve classic American brunch dishes such as eggs Benedict, clam chowder and Moonen’s own burger, from 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. This “bottomless” brunch is all-you-can-eat, and the choices are unlimited. The price is $30, plus $4 for a mimosa, Bellini or Bloody Mary.

Hungry, yet?