The announcement that the Maccioni family?s iconic Italian restaurant, Circo (also known as Osteria del Circo), would close next spring is a sign of the times, and serves notice on the entire concept of fine dining in Las Vegas. I?ve had many great Italian dinners in this colorful restaurant, dishes such as Mama Egi?s ravioli stuffed with sheep?s milk ricotta, spaghetti with bottarga (the roe of the gray mullet), terrific osso buco and the best gelati in the city, to name just a few delicacies.
Piero Selvaggio Valentino is closing next month, and clearly, the number of places for fine Italian food is dwindling, to make room for more casual stuff—pizza, stuzzichini (like Italian tapas) and, yes (sigh), more burgers. Nove Italiano at the Palms lost its terrific chef, Geno Bernardo, and faces an uncertain future. The great Mario Batali is planning to open a burger joint in the Venetian, along with his partner, Joe Bastianich. Mamma mia!
Why such a trend? Just look around. It?s nearly impossible to make money these days with fine dining. Restaurants such as Jo?l Robuchon at the Mansion require dozens of people in the kitchen, plus a sommelier, hostesses, captains, servers and bussers to go along with food costs through the roof. Daniel Boulud will soon return to Las Vegas (perhaps in the space vacated by Selvaggio) with a bistro. In New York and Los Angeles, many of the great chefs rely on casual venues to keep their showcase restaurants afloat.
If anyone will buck a trend, though, it?s Wolfgang Puck, still, perhaps, the most famous chef in this country. After his longtime pastry chef, Sherry Yard, decamped to open her own shop in Los Angeles, Puck pulled a major coup, hiring Kamel Guechida, the M.O.F. (France?s Academy Award for pastry chefs), away from Robuchon. Guechida will now be doing all the breads and pastries for the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group. I think he?s a world-class talent. I?ve never had better breads than his anywhere on earth.
Last week, I was invited to sample some of Spago?s new desserts, which included fruit jellies, chocolate truffles and individually wrapped caramels so buttery you could spread them on your morning English muffin. His raspberry sabayon (delicate yuzu custard with raspberry sorbet and pistachio foam) is incredible. So is his strawberry shortcake—veddy French, I might add—and a parfait-like take on a pi?a colada: coconut ice layered with a crunchy pineapple compote.
According to corporate chef David Robins, ?Our desserts needed some new life. Guechida is going to take the company in a new direction.? If anyone can rescue fine dining, Puck can. There?s lots more to say about this, and we?ll do so soon.
Follow Max Jacobson?s latest epicurean observations, reviews and tips at VegasSeven.com/Blogs.