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The Best of Times

Gosh, I've been eating in a lot of new restaurants lately. Let's see: Capital Grille, Boa, Sushi Roku, Il Mulino, Joe's Stone Crab, Fleur de Lys, RM, Mesa Grill, case you haven't noticed we're in the midst of another big food boom.....the third by my count since 1992.

It all started when Wolfgang Puck opened Spago in in the Forum shops. Soon afterwards the big upscale chains like Ruth's Chris (which actually got here before Spago), Palm, Morton's, Bertolini's discovered there was gold in them thar hills. By the mid nineties, not only were they thriving in our overheated atmosphere, but one of the world's great chefs---Jean-Louis Palladin graced us with his presence (I'm not being facetious)-bringing his considerable skills, reputation, and a whole lotta exotic ingredients (heirloom vegetables, dayboat scallops, really fresh fish)-not the frozen-overpriced kind our French restaurants were pawning off on their customers at the time.

By 1997, other nationally known chefs like Mark Miller, Emeril Lagasse had decided this was a great place to make money-though not necessarily a place they wished to practice their oeuvre. Actually one of them-Charley Trotter tried to practice his oeuvre-but was run out of town 10 years ago for not properly appreciating a high roller's right to a well-done steak, and 'taters on demand.

Next came the the Big Three Boom --led by Steverino's Bellagio and its Murderer's Row of eye-and-wallet-popping places. When Mandalay Bay and Venetian went on line, suddenly we were a world class dining town, one of the world's great restaurant destinations, blah blah blah, and lots of other things the p.r. types dished, and the world's press lapped up.

Things were on cruise control for about four years, until Bradley Ogden prospected the vein of casino cash and discovered it was far from tapped out. I thought we were grateful to have him and that was that....Well that's why I write about restaurants instead of running them, because how wrong I was.

This latest wave, led by uber-chef Hubert Keller, is but an appetizer of things to come. All the big hotels are now playing the "can you top this" game, by launching pre-emptive strikes against whatever the Wynn is about to unleash. It'll be tough to outclass Mandalay Bay's Big Three of MIX, RM and Fleur de Lys, but when Caesar's brings Guy Savoy here from Paris (as in France, not Las Vegas Boulevard South), they might just do it. You can count on one hand the number of restaurants in France that are named after the chef, and Monsieur Savoy is deservedly among that elite group. My lips are smackin' already....

And if your lips smack at the prospect of smacking me down over one of my reviews, you might want to call to SON next Thurs. March 10th where I'll be joined by the Grande Dame of Las Vegas food and restaurant writers (Muriel Stevens), and Clarke Wolf -the grand fromage of restaurant consultants-as we comment, and take your comments on, the state of our Restaurant Scene.