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BELLAGIO

Now that the hype has subsided, I thought I'd give you the straight scoop on the restaurants at the Bellagio. Not all of them mind you, but at least the top six opened by some of the most celebrated restaurateurs in the world. I have yet to make it to Le Cirque and while Jasmine and Shintaro look like real winners, I'll leave that Asian analysis for another time.

And speaking of looks, forget the hotel/casino. Once you scratch the surface, all you have is just another monstrous Vegas saloon—albeit with wider beltways and thicker carpets. Whatever Wynn spent that billion on, it certainly wasn't innovative design. He must've left that to the restaurants because each of the places here is unique, captivating and an eyeful. You can feast yours on the Picassos at Picasso—but my vote for most stunning design and comfort goes to Prime. Prime also gets my vote for best food by an eyelash over Aqua. Prime calls itself a steakhouse, but that moniker both gives not a hint of the sophisticated cuisine being created here by protégés of Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Calling Prime just a steakhouse is like calling foie gras just a piece of liver.

And if goose or duck liver floats your boat, you'll find no more interesting preparations than those at seafood-happy Aqua. Who would've thought to marry Ahi tuna, pinot noir wine and silken and seared pieces of this ethereal organ meat. Amazingly it works, which goes to show you why Aqua is the most popular restaurant in San Francisco and why I'm not a celebrity chef.

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The trouble with Italian food is that four or five days after eating it, you're hungry again. Not at Osteria del Circo, though, because at this Maccioni clan clone, straight from New York City, you find Las Vegas' lightest, freshest and best Italian cooking. Only Francesco's at Treasure Island and Portofino at the D.I. even come close. Circo is not Bellagio in design or attitude—it is bellissimo.

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Dec 10, 1998

The Bellagioist

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