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The whole celebrity chef thing has never held much sway with me. As much as I admire Wolfgang Puck, Emeril and Jean-George, their Las Vegas outposts are but stars in the constellation of their fame. And as much as they've added to my dining out enjoyment, I still feel that Las Vegas is but a flashy party girl to them - someone to be wooed and taken advantage of...before they bestow their sizeable gifts upon - their one true love.
But rather than bemoan why these darlings of the food media don't grace us more with their presence, I thought I'd spend a few weeks highlighting three masters of their craft that, if not totally homegrown, are at least people we can call our friends and neighbors.
Austrian-born Gustav Mauler hasn't composed any symphonies, but has orchestrated a mini-empire of eateries that has elevated dining standards on both sides of town. Beginning at the Golden Nugget in the late eighties, Mauler helped turn Las Vegas from a buffet bonanza to a place where dinner was taken seriously. Thanks to his culinary expertise and knack for restaurant design, AND Mr. Wynn's checkbook, of course, gourmet rooms became destination restaurants, and everything from haute décor to top flight service became the rule here, rather than the exception.
Now Gustav commands the kitchens at Oxo, Spiedini, Sazio and the just launched and oddly named Bull Shrimp. Bull Shrimp - which I've nicknamed Steerfish, is located in the ultra hip Green Valley Ranch...and is as locals friendly as every Mauler operation, with an eye-popping design that is as up to date as anything in Kansas City...or New York for that matter. Miss A and I only had time to tempt our palates with some excellent appetizers in the swanky lounge, but were mightily impressed by both food and the prices. Only the overly doughy spring rolls didn't spring to life on my tongue, but that was more than made up for by some sashimi-quality seared tuna, and deliciously crabby crab cakes. If Mr. Mauler keeps this up...I may just revise my opinion of Green Valley and celebrity chefs.