Las Vegas New Year’s Eve: To Dance

Headliners of all stripes and styles are seizing the moment to take stages all around town, and that includes several major hotel performances. Whether they’re opening a hot new nightclub or just partying with old friends, musicians all over the city want to make it a night to remember.

At the Cosmopolitan, the legendary Stevie Wonder is kicking off 2012 at the Chelsea, while a potential heir to the piano crooner throne John Legend will be onstage at The Pearl at the Palms, followed by an afterparty at Moon. Also on piano, Bruno Mars is playing The Bank at the Bellagio, while Chris Brown’s show at Pure at Caesar’s Palace will be set to the backdrop of the Strip’s fireworks show. And throwback alert: Vanessa Williams will be taking the stage at the Riviera, performing her favorite old R&B hits.

The rockers of Guns N’ Roses are finishing off their farewell tour with a two and a half hour set at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel—singer/rapper Drake will kick off 2012 with a performance the following day. If you like your rock a little more alt, Franky Perez is playing a set at Rocks Lounge at the Red Rock Hotel; their other venues are hosting DJ BKNY at Lucky Bar, and Latin dance group Toto Zara at Onyx. Turntables more your speed? Steve Angello (the house DJ and one-third of DJ trio Swedish House Mafia will be spinning all night at XS Nightclub at Encore. And if “Party Rock” is your anthem of the year, LMFAO is coming to Haze at Aria for the midnight show.

In clubland, House of Blues at Mandalay Bay goes punk for the evening, with performances by Old Man Markley and NOFX, while producer and rapper B.o.B. takes over LAX at the Luxor. Poptart Fergie opens up the new outpost of 1OAK at the Mirage, while bandmate Will.i.am is spinning at Surrender at Encore with DJ Ammo. And for one of the biggest tickets of the night, R&B goddess Mary J. Blige opens RPM Nightclub at the Tropicana. Many VIP packages have already sold out, but the hotels are planning on making these concerts a party—even the cheap seats are sure to come along with a good time.

If you haven’t had enough (or, let’s face it, are still up the next day) dance out your hangover at Hyde, the new club opening at the Bellagio at 5pm on Jan. 1 with DJ88 spinning, snacks from Circo, and a special show by DJ Paul Oakenfold.

Las Vegas New Year’s Eve: To Drink

You may have noticed a significant omission in our last New Year’s Eve story—after all, how could we write a party round-up without including one of the biggest party cities of them all? But that’s only because what’s planned in Las Vegas for 2012 is so big, it required its own day. Herewith, our guide to the best of New Year’s Eve festivities in the hotels on the strip:

For a straight up club experience, the Spectacular Spectacular at The Palms sounds like it will be just that, with Paul Oakenfold playing at Rain, the John Legend afterparty (more on that later) at Moon, Miss Nevada USA hosting at Ghostbar, and a horde of Playboy bunnies taking over the Playboy Club. Naturally we’d suggest the VIP pass, for unlimited access to a selection of top-shelf liquor from 10pm to 1am at all the venues. At the Venetian and Palazzo, there’s a similarly comprehensive situation, with their five combined bars hosting Midnight Mix from 10pm to 2am, while DJ Sam Ronson spins on the terrace at Lavo, in the Palazzo, from 9pm to midnight, finishing up with a major fireworks display.

For a loungey experience, the heavenly bodies of Cirque du Soleil will be lighting up the room at Gold Lounge at the Aria Hotel, while the heavenly bodies of the Kardashian siblings will be spread around town, hosting (for better or worse) what are sure to be hot tickets: Kim at Tao at the Venetian, Kourtney and Scott at Chateau Gardens at Paris Las Vegas, and Rob at Tryst at the Wynn. And make room for some nostalgia: Pamela Anderson will host at Studio 54 at the MGM Grand, a big goodbye bash at the 14 –year-old venue, which will be closing early next year, while starlet Taryn Manning will be hosting at Tabu with DJ Kid Jay.

Stay tuned for our guide to Las Vegas’ most lavish eateries, up next…

Learning to Roll with Chef Masa at Las Vegas’ New Bar Masa

“I didn’t want to come to Las Vegas, but they wanted me to come,” Chef Masa Takayama tells the journalists gathering in Bar Masa, his new sushi bar located in the Aria resort in the new Las Vegas City Center. Masa isn’t one for small talk. He begins his “class” on sushi rolling, an experience scheduled on a tight City Center press trip itinerary, with “This is how you make toro,” before filleting a 2-foot piece of tuna in silence for the next 15 minutes. Though his lack of showmanship and banter isn’t particularly helpful if you’re trying to learn how to slice yellow tail, it’s a refreshing break from the usual Las Vegas celebrity chef.

Masa doesn’t converse — he responds, replying in stark sentences to questions posed by journalists timidly approaching his sushi bar like dogs hoping for treats. This lack of embellishment, of showmanship, of bullshit, extends to how he makes sushi — which is why it’s so jarring to see Masa wandering amongst the 256 seats at the new Bar Masa and the connecting restaurant Shaboo.

The sushi master has a long-held belief in the practice of shibui, which means simplicity devoid of unnecessary elements. Despite the price tag on a meal at Masa at the Time Warner Center in New York ($400), which opened in 2004, the 26-seat establishment hews relatively closely to this belief system. Chef Masayoshi Takayama presides nightly over the sushi bar, his Japanese cleaver in hand. He serves his menu-less lunch and dinner patrons whatever he feels he should, based on the quality of the day’s catches (flown straight in from Japan) and availability of ingredients, keeping a journal of his guests’ reactions for future reference. His luxuriously priced though simple eatery came out of the recession relatively unscathed, due to Masa’s care, his specifically customized menu, his studious selection of fish, his knowledge of what cold- or warm-water sea stream they were caught in, and his strictness when it comes to quality.

In comparison, the new Masa is positively decadent. Housed in the new City Center, an $8 billion venture between the MGM Grand and Dubai World, it has a giant glittering Vegas entrance and 36-foot ceilings adorned with drop lights meant to look like fireflies. The menu has been tweaked for the less sushi-astute customer. Dishes on the seasonally changing menu include Thai sea bream with white truffle for $48, yari ika with salt and yuzu zest for $14 apiece, uni risotto for $48, and ohmi beef tataki with white truffles for $120. While the PR piranhas played up the stellar sushi selection and decent pricing compared to Masa New York, they tried to direct attention away from shabu-shabu dining room, Shaboo. With a $500 per person flat rate price tag, that restaurant is at explicit odds with the City Center’s press agents talking points — which claim that that the new recession-conscientious center will be an economic boon to Vegas, due to the job creation, sustainability, and the alternative cultural experiences that contrast with the big spending and gambling of the old Las Vegas. Chef Masa has no such agenda and talks excitedly about Shaboo, with its strictly omakase menu that focuses on “hot pot” cookery.

image

All in all, the food was impeccable. I had no idea that squid and sweet shrimp could taste so flavorful, and I was in awe of the Kobe beef skewers, the fresh kanpachi, and the carefully prepared freshwater eel. But if the future of Las Vegas is getting middle America to empty their wallets on sushi fresh off a one-way flight from Japan, and not into slot machines … well, as the saying goes, it’s so crazy, it just might work.

On a rainy day at City Center, Chef Masa stands at the helm of a new piece of his empire, teaching a mass of journalists something he calls the art of umami, the basic essence or flavor inherent in his menu. To showcase this, he chooses to “teach” the method of sushi by the piece, as the group manages a few questions between mouthfuls of ika. Like his sushi preparation, his answers are simple and precise.

Why do you use rare or endangered fish? Today a lot of people ask me about this. Overfishing is the truth. Which is why people start farm-raising. They should have a limit in all the countries, so you can eat it all the time. Price-wise, prices go up, but it’s important so that you may eat the fish forever.

What’s the major difference between Masa in New York and Masa here? Same.

But the experience is totally different. Food is basically the same.

What about price? Same.

[Long pause with journalists shifting uncomfortably in their chairs.]

image

How would you characterize the food then? Japanese food. Simple Japanese comfort food. Not complicated. Sushi, sashimi. The menu is all of my favorite things. No real specialty. Every item I ever wrote down is in the menu. It’s all pretty much my favorite thing.

How much time do you spend in Las Vegas? Every month I am here. For two to three days.

Who designed the space? I did.

You did? In New York I did. Before in LA I did. Now here I did.

Are you trained in design? No, I just love to draw. This is like fireflies [points to the white lights. Note: Richard Bloch Architect is the listed designer, the same firm behind his New York outpost. In other words, it is entirely possible Masa is a Jack-of-all-trades.]

Where did you find the unique serving dishes and platters? I designed those. Clay dishes. Looks like stone. I designed. The ceiling is 30 feet high. I designed that.

Has anyone eaten at Shaboo? Yes, I think so. Would you like to look? (Leads group to the small dining room) See, I designed these tables (points to the electric burners atop a smooth wood surface).

Publicist interjects: Over Christmas we had a group that won big in the casino and celebrated by coming to dine at Shaboo.

What fish do you prefer? You know that. Mackerel! I like really fishy fish. Anchovies, fish like that.

Tell us about the type of fish? Toro means it’s going to melt in your mouth. It’s not meaning it’s the fatty part.

What’s the best method to enjoy toro? A small touch of wasabi between the rice and the fish. Lightly touch it with soy sauce.

What makes the wasabi here so much better? A lot of times there is coloring or horseradish added. The difference is, wasabi needs very clean water. This comes from the very clean mountain water in Japan. Eighty percent grows from the waters around Mount Fuji.

Is this fresh or saltwater eel? Freshwater. We’ve had the eel sauce for about seven years now. We keep aging it and refreshing it so it’s a continuing process.

How is it rolled? Sliced and placed into a thinly sliced celery casing with a bit of lettuce.

What is ika? Ika is squid. It is prepared by using the zest of a yuzu fruit, the juice of a sudachi, which is like a lime and pink Himalayan salt. You eat it with no soy sauce.

Articfically Intelligent Vegas Rooms

As it turns out, that trifecta of buildings on tap for The Strip in 2009 will offer hotel rooms fit for a sci-fi movie. Rooms in the Aria, Mandarin Oriental and the Harmon Hotel will be equipped with customizable settings for the television, music and curtains. Feel free to set the music and the television on blast for your triumphant 4:00am return from the Blackjack table, or instruct the curtains to never open when you’re in the room, should you choose to sin in this city.