Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

Yes, Strip Walk is back - July 2009 edition. This time, Mike added a little food critique as well.

The photos are here:



An entrance for the Mandarin tower is made obvious through new glass panelling. Still concerned that The Crystals are really bright. What's really surprised me is how messy the sidewalk is in front of CityCenter. I don't think this area has ever been sparkling since I came to Vegas, but since they added shelter and a barrier from the street in front of most of the hotel last year, and the day I walked through it was a mess. A wind kicked up and there was nobody in front of me and so a whole tumbleweed of men's literature usually slapped around this area began rustling up in the air.

Here's the current state of the bridge, and the connection to Cosmo.

The Palazzo

Before I get lost on a signage rant, I want to say that the big hall looks a little less barren with some red awnings that have store logos printed on them. I'm not sure if these are New or 'New To Me'.

Though I was on my way to WynnLV for lunch, I decided to haul though The Palazzo and get a look at the First Food that was hinted behind barricades in the last report. Here it is, by the by, and you can see the kitchen through a window. On my way in from the TI bridge, I saw that The Venetian logos had been replaced with signage over the entrance. Just inside the entrance a Palazzo directional sign has been hung from the ceiling with more directions.

As soon as this second photo was uploaded, someone (you know who they are, but I'm just protecting people's privacy) called the sign lousy. I'm not much of a signage design kind of person, though I know some people are. For instance, I sometimes follow the adventures of Joe Clark, a Canadian typographical expert specializing in disability access; who has a website and flickr stream commenting on the fonts and design and readability of many signs, usually related to mass transit. He would probably have a fit if he saw that sign, I tend to already know where I am going and not pay much attention. The sign has several arrows and yet is split into two halves and is very vague (a casino is down? Which one?) I feel it's made more redundant by arches just over it. The arch signs aren't even very accurate, since both The Venetian and The Palazzo are listed as straight ahead (neither are, really.) Heck, EVERYTHING on that sign is listed as straight ahead.

As for the sign inside, it suffers from too much info. Is that a Walgreens Elevator to the right or Walgreens and an Elevator? Hooray for using the universal wheelchair symbol, though, for reasons elaborated below.

If I were an LVS signage person, I would probably have the two arches changed back to large logos, to point people leftwards for The Palazzo and keeping right for The Venetian, just to get people going in the right direction. The sign inside can get more specific for First Food, Palazzo Shoppes, and Walgreens on the left, and the right would have The Venetian (down arrow) and Grand Canal Shoppes (right arrow.) There's no point to having the Meeting Rooms and Expo on there, you're too far away to begin putting that on directional signage, and the elevator is literally right next to the sign. Maybe a little "Elevator" sign over the door is needed.

Speaking of Palazzo signage, disability access, and the like...

Strip Walk, Making a Difference!(?): Time to give credit to a complaint addressed. Perhaps because of it's appearance in this column, or perhaps not, the Palazzo bridge-level entrance elevator is now just an elevator and no longer a "disability elevator" as I pointed out in February. Props to Sands for taking that down, it sounded rather cold.

Cranes 'n' Things

The Hard Rock Cafe at the Showcase Mall is looking closer to being ready with the big guitar installed.

And now it's time for one more new thing:

StripMunch (Very casual opinions from a fussy eater)

Folks, I am not John Curtas and this is not his excellent food blog, but I have considered doing this since the Fountainebleau was FUBAR and put on the shelf with Echelon and St Regis (FUBARbleu?) and has left me with little else to talk about other than CityCenter and the occasional restaurant makeover.

Truth is, I'm very much about two options when eating in resorts: the 24 hour cafe, and the buffet. Okay, room service too, but that's just 24 hour cafe on a cart. Celebrity chefs? Wouldn't know of 'em. "Fusion cuisine" is visiting two different ethnic buffet stations on one trip up the counter. It doesn't help that I'm a very fussy/picky eater with a pretty boring taste palate.

So, I've decided to periodically try a restaurant to branch out my horizons, and write about it. I'm not a pro critic, but I'll at least tell you if I think I got my money's worth (or whether I was comped) and give some opinions.

We'll start off with:

Stratta (Wynn Las Vegas)

I've intended to go here for a while anyway, but the Red Card sent a $50 dining credit for your choice of four restaurants, and we chose Stratta after several people online said it was the best option. Normally open for dinner only, Stratta opens for lunch on Saturday and Sunday and we were the first in for lunch.

Something I would like to point out to people looking at menus in advance is that the Wynn menu PDFs do nothing to distinguish lunch from dinner. You'll see a full menu online, and get to the restaurant and find an item is only served at lunch, or at dinner. Do not be surprised if what you want isn't there, and be ready with a backup.

This location was originally planned as a Ferrari Cafe and then opened with the rest of Wynn as a very red Corsa instead. It did not fare very well in the reviews, and so the place closed while a renovation happened. The biggest changes were that the reds were replaced with a dose of rust brown and a wall blocking the place off from the casino was ripped out, giving the casino a view of the bar and vice versa. For a not-so-busy Sunday lunch, we were seated between the bar and the casino. As the open-view Corsa also didn't do very well, at some point this location was handed to Alex Stratta (get it?) or at least had his identity tagged onto it. Most people feel the menu didn't change.

Honestly, I'm not a fan of eating open to a casino (especially if there's a heavy smoker outside) but the other section appeared closed so there wasn't any good reason to ask for different seats. The dining room does not have any music that I know of, but due to the close proximity to the casino, we were eating to the tisk-bum tisk-bum tisk-bum of the Wynn casino soundtrack, which neither of us like very much. Perhaps a busy, loud room would drown out the soundtrack.

Honestly, I have to say I really enjoyed the food, though we did not get very fancy. I had a lunch-only item, a Crispy Chicken Sandwich ($12), and my dining companion chose the all-hours Rigatoni with Meatballs (could not remember the price - hey, it was comped!) Bread came in the form of regular bread and flat bread and came with a pesto sauce that the waitress chatted up. I'll be honest, I've never tried a pesto sauce before this, but I've heard multiple people say this is good.

The chicken sandwich was great (picture). The bread was perfectly crunchy, a dense layer of cheese that wasn't as greasy as it looked, the basil topping added flavour and the chicken was fine. My other diner didn't really comment on the pasta and meatballs, but didn't complain either.

Total bill was under the credit, so I opted for the Toffee Chocolate Cake for dessert. This cake is great. You basically have a chocolate cake rolled in toffee bits with a coffee sauce poured across the plate, and a tiny portion of edible gold leaf at the top. I almost always go for the cheesecake when I pick a dessert but I would recommend this.

Service was prompt as you'd expect when you're one of the first people to arrive for the day.


Stratta at Wynn. Lunch. Two meals, two soft drinks, and a dessert was around $55 before tip. $50 was comped. I'll get better about tracking the prices of these things as I do this more.


Read archived comments (22 so far)
July 3, 2009 7:23 AM Posted by detroit1051

Mike, great photos and report. A few questions:
In photos 2 and 11, what is "First Food & Bar" at Palazzo that warrants a sign on the outside of the building? Is it the name of a restaurant? If so, I don't see how it will draw tourists in.
I can't get over the acres of glass at CityCenter. Good thing the property faces east for the most part.
The Mirage lagoon in photo #6 looks better than I ever remember it.
#7--I didn't know Adelson had copied Wynn's umbrella theme.
#21--ARIA's entrance will make a dramatic statement when the project is done and the construction stuff is gone. It looks good.
#25--Planet Hollywood cheapens the neighborhood, imo.

Thanks for the link to John Curtas' blog. Since restaurants are one of the things I like most about Las Vegas, I'll start following his blog.
The last time I was at Wynn, Corsa was still operating. The area where you had lunch was primarily a cocktail area and only used for dining as an overflow when the dining room was full. I like the open-to-the-casino look for lunch (same with Red 8), but I want to be away from the casino noise and smoke at dinner.
By the way, Stephen Kalt, whom Steve Wynn replaced with Alex Stratta, has just opened Fornelletto at Borgata in Atlantic City. It wasn't open when I was there in May, but the menu and description make it sound very similar to Corsa Cucina / Stratta.
Thanks again.

July 3, 2009 8:18 AM Posted by Hunter

First Food has a little bit of opening buzz - it's run by Sam DeMarco, who you may remember from 'Sam's American' at Bellagio.

John Curtas is a Las Vegas treasure.

July 3, 2009 8:40 AM Posted by detroit1051

Hunter, thanks. Yes, I remember Sam's American and liked it more than Fix. I'm still planning to return to Las Vegas after CityCenter opens to see and experience all the changes since November, 2006.
I see Venetian has some attractive deals from $129. You can get a 1,400 sq ft Piazza Suite for $249 a night including "Phantom" tickets and restaurant discounts. Times have changed.

July 3, 2009 9:08 AM Posted by mike_ch

Detroit: First Food & Bar is, well, not sure. I suppose it sits somewhere between Society and Burger Bar. However, it sits in a rather invisible location of the Palazzo, technically on the shopping level but not really within an effective draw distance of people who are in the hotel. It's just inside the new doorway from the TI bridge. A lot of people don't even approach Sheldy's from the TI bridge, and those entering Palazzo from the bridge with Wynn or through the Venetian aren't likely to see this place.

It reminds me of the Vivid Nightclub, the Velvet Room or whatever it was called, and all other attempts by LVS to put a commercial outlet into these spaces connecting the casinos with other casinos. Most people just don't notice them and keep going until they reach the casino or mall and once they're "there" they think of what they're going to eat.

First Food is in a hallway connecting the outdoor bridge with a space that is very transitional between Venetian and Palazzo, at Barney's New York. You walk through those "Shoppes at Palazzo" doors that I've been taking shots of for months now, walk into a Palazzo-decorated hallway with First on your left and nothing on your right, continue walking and eventually find yourself at the very very end of the Venetian GCS mall, with the end of the canal and the boats turning around and the big hallway room of Palazzo just to the left. You turn left and walk past the entrance of Barneys and step into the big room with the waterfall that begins the Palazzo.

This is the kind of thing that your Wynns and Disneys of the world would be furious about, because the theme swaps from Palazzo to Venetian to Palazzo as you walk, and if you head right toward the Venetian's mall instead of instead of left toward the Palazzo's mall you could actually walk through doors that say "The Palazzo" and wind up in the Venetian instead. There isn't any real direction there except a huge archway over the path to the left that says "The Shoppes at The Palazzo." I suppose that is to be your hint on where to go. That and you probably noticed which direction the buildings were when you entered.

It's really a continuation of what Palazzo has been trying to figure out since announcement: Does it want to be it's own place or does it just want to be More Of The Venetian? It seems to have settled on "we are our own place, but one that is quite reliant with being good friends with Venetian next door." I do not think you could as easily 'unbundle' the two like Mirage and TI (not that LVS would want to.)

Though it doesn't have quite the same symptoms, Encore suffers a lot of the same problem, straddling the fence between A Second Property (Really!) and simply being Even More Wynn Las Vegas. That confusion is even present in the name, as without a near-identical Wynn sitting next door 'Encore' wouldn't make any sense.

Planet Hollywood passes as acceptable for the neighbourhood when you see the whole thing in motion. The amount of large images they spread out on their building (such as the Peepshow graphic in the centre) can be annoying, but in day and age where Luxor now has gigantic "YOUR AD HERE" spaces on three sides of the building, it's really more of a petty complaint.

July 3, 2009 9:46 AM Posted by detroit1051

Checking John Curtas' blog and seeing the connection to KNPR brought back another great memory. When Emeril's at MGM Grand first opened, I enjoyed it and always requested the same server, David Bert, who was excellent and also a source of information for all things Las Vegas and Nevada. I enjoyed his "Along The Way" on KNPR. I need to check KNPR's website to see if it's still on.

July 3, 2009 10:30 AM Posted by mike_ch

Okay, correction time: There actually is a sign pointing you where you're going between First Food and Palazzo. Two, even. Guess I ignored them because I walk these places by instinct most of the time anymore.

July 4, 2009 10:22 AM Posted by parchedearth

First's draw is as a 21hr restaurant bar. Perfect for a late night/early morning burger after a hard night of drinking. However, it is located in a deadzone with very little foot traffic. This concept needs to be adjacent to the casino floor (where security is already in place) in order to work. I am not sure what LVS can put in these dead areas of the mall. At one time they had plans for a nightclub on the top floor of the mall and maybe that would have brought in foot traffic.

Such deadzones run throughout Palazzo and I'm not sure what the architects were thinking. Specifically, the lower level sportsbook, del toro area which used to have the 44 club. It took me two days of actual searching to find it when I first stayed there. Also, the Venetian has a deadzone outside where the where the nightclub used to be located. These areas really need specific tenants to draw in people and LVS has not done a good job at finding the right ones.

Stratta is actually a pretty decent lunch place, although it pales in comparison to the other dinner options at Wynncore. It takes some effort to find upscale lunch options since the better restaurants try to preserve their star ratings by only being open for dinner.

The Mandarin is really looking nice. Without a casino I wouldn't normally consider staying there, but I might actually try it sometime. Hope they get Veer wrapped up before Aria opens. The cranes will ruin the view at the opening.

Also, it sounds like Vdara will be opening a couple months before Aria. Given its location, does anyone know if there will be a backdoor entrance to Bellagio? I'd hate to stay there for the opening and find myself blocked from any strip access.

July 4, 2009 10:32 AM Posted by Hunter

I believe Vdara opens Oct. 1st or thereabouts - before any other part of City Center. I think The Crystals open next, then ARIA/Mandarin/Veer in December.

MGM Mirage describes Vdara as 'physically connected' to Bellagio - I expect you'll be able to walk between the properties and also catch the City Center people mover at the Bellagio station, nestled between the Spa Tower and Vdara.

July 4, 2009 12:09 PM Posted by John

The tower crane on Veer East has been taken down as of a few days ago. The remaining glass just needs to be put in place by Veer West's crane and then interior work will commence.

July 4, 2009 3:19 PM Posted by mike_ch

parchedearth: Sad to hear, but I'm not particularly interested in the most high falutin' meal possible. I was perfectly honest above: I'm just trying to get out of the coffee shops and buffets, and while I'm not opposed to dinners, I wouldn't really want to spend more than $50 for a solo meal if I can help it. In that regard it helps that I don't drink alcohol at all, which is something that puts me at odds with most any food critic in the world who feels that a wine or spirit of some kind is essential to just about any dish.

July 4, 2009 4:11 PM Posted by Phil

I've just closing out a 3 week stay at my place out here and your mention about City Center sidewalk being dirty. I saw it too and its absolutely trashed. Every step a person takes in front of you kicks up dirt. Not the mention the piles or trash, mostly escort service cards and free drink offers from various bars in town. Also take a drive through the road to enter Treasure Island, the road that Y's into Mirage's side entrance and Treasure Island self park. There is a wall opposite where all the cabs line up for Treasure Island and I felt like I was back in Cleveland Ohio, just filthy walls. There is some sort of iron gate that looks like a car smashed into it and its just sitting their unrepaired. Supposedly the city has a night crew that cleans all streets and for the most part they do a great job given, but the property owners are really slipping (MGM companies). You remember years ago the property staff were out there polishing the brass hand rails always cleaning the glass doorways and now they're loaded with greasy fingerprints and they let the brass just tarnish. They just don't give a crap anymore about keeping it up, they figure we'll just replace it when it goes bad.

As far as Stratta, I personally liked it better when it was under the direction of Stephen Kalt with the Corsa Cucina name. He was always on hand as it was his place, now my assumption is Alex is tied down to his gourmet room so its his in name and recipe, but I'm not sure how much hands on he's there given his Alex restaurant responsibility. I have to say too about Stratta's place and this goes for Wazuzu too that the mid line restaurants have really slipped on their service. Normally the beverage person was always on the ball refilling drinks and just keeping an eye on things while the waiter just took the order and delivered the order, now with cutbacks it seems the server handles more of the responsibilities now and you're finding out that some of these servers aren't so great when they don't have a beverage person to fall back on. My Stratta and Wazuzu servers were nothing to praise about. Stratta's rigatoni and meatballs is good, the pesto pizza I wasn't so much a fan of nor the spinach ravioli appetizer.

July 4, 2009 5:04 PM Posted by mike_ch

Phil, you hit it right on. The next StripMunch is actually going to cover Society next time and a large part of that was the change in service. Lunch on public opening day was miles beyond what dinner was just recently.

I'm still trying to figure out how I'm going to hit up these places and in what order. I was planning to leave midstrip for last to give CityCenter time to get cookin' but if I stay up north then I'm going to be eating out of the Wynncore for quite a long while. Might be time to head south.

July 4, 2009 6:19 PM Posted by Tom M

FYI detroit, the new Steven Kalt restaurant at Borgata in AC was doing soft openings last week when I was there. I asked the guy and he said that the grand opening is today, July 4th. Can't wait to get back and try it. I really liked the cavelike space that the old restaurant had. Also, this is the restaurant that the latest Hell's Kitchen winner,Danny, is working at. I asked about him and they said he was a Suis Chef.

July 5, 2009 6:36 AM Posted by sean

When my fiancee and I dined at Alex, my buddy and his girlfriend dined at Stratta. Apparently he was told that they use the same kitchen for both places -- which from both a logistical and quality point of view I find difficult to believe. Can anyone confirm this?

July 5, 2009 7:52 AM Posted by Hunter

I've been in the kitchen at Alex and you can see the Stratta kitchen from the dining room - they do not share.

July 5, 2009 9:06 AM Posted by detroit1051

Yeah, Stratta has almost an open show kitchen which is nowhere near Alex.

July 6, 2009 3:23 PM Posted by David McKee

This info comes from dealers at Wynn LV, so take it however you like. High rollers are supposedly being required to stay and play at Encore in order to be comped. Play at Encore is way below that at Wynn (and you know how much I like Encore, so this is not something I'm happy to report). Also, management has allegedly starting cutting itself in on tips rec'd by cabana boys, spa attendants, etc. To whatever extent this may involve Culinary Union employees, it merits further inquiry.

July 7, 2009 1:58 PM Posted by mike_ch

Yep, anyone who has watched that Rehab TV show (though it's probably scripted to hell) knows what they have to deal with.

Strangely, despite the sometimes rowdy clientele, employees at the Hard Rock are some of the nicest I've seen in a casino. Last concert I went to there a security guy offered a father up front to take the son out for I guess a restroom break or something. Some minutes later the security guy returned with the man's son who now had a whole bunch of vending machine goodies with him.

They'll also toss out small bottled waters between acts, at least until until the first jerk who throws water into the air on the crowd and ruins it for everyone. Overall, fairly nice to people who spent 4-6 hours (depending on how soon you got in line) hanging around and not gambling or spending money.

July 7, 2009 5:29 PM Posted by mike_ch

I posted the above in the wrong topic. Meant to go in Open Discussion regarding David McKee's link about the Hard Rock.

Too many tabs open at once! Sorry. (slinks away)

July 9, 2009 8:48 PM Posted by donnymac

Thanks Mike. I always enjoy your stripwalk and will now look forward to stripmunch as well.

July 10, 2009 12:32 PM Posted by motoman

Yeah, love the name "StripMunch." And it's perectly titled for the angle of "get[ing] out of the coffee shops and buffets..."

July 16, 2009 4:42 AM Posted by detroit1051

A Vegas friend who doesn't get to the Strip often commented on Veer Towers. In his subjective opinion, he said they ruin the appearance of CityCenter, but he also said it looked like some modifications were being made to the exteriors.
Does anyone know whether Veer is changing anything such as the color of the glass?