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…

Industry Insiders: Julie Farias, the General’s Butcher

As one of the many talented cuisiniers participating in Le Fooding D’Amour (September 25-26 at at New York’s P.S.1), Julie Farias knows a thing or two about a good cut of meat. The Texas-born chef—who recently moved from Brooklyn’s Beer Table to The General Greene—worked for Daniel Boulud for five years (at Café Boulud, db Bistro Moderne, and Daniel), but attributes much of her culinary know-how to her southern upbringing and family influence (her clan owns a tortilla factory inside a San Antonio meat market). Farias tells us about working in kitchens on both coasts and how Le Fooding is going to taste for New Yorkers. In her case, it’s going to taste like tacos made from 40 cow heads.

What influenced your move from Beer Table to The General Greene? Nicholas Morgenstern, the owner of The General Greene, and I met at Daniel when he was the pastry sous-chef there and I was working the soup station. We worked together at 5Ninth. There, I was the opening sous and he was the pastry chef, and then we also worked together at Resto. I’ve known him for a really long time, and before last year, I was living and working in Los Angeles and Las Vegas on a project for the Palazzo. Nick came out to see me and asked me to come to his new restaurant, The General Greene, and I didn’t think anything of it. I said that I wasn’t in the position to leave. When I came back from Vegas, I moved to Beer Table. Owners Justin and Tricia Philips were friends of mine, and they needed a little help setting up the menu. They said, “We have this place, and there’s no kitchen, but we love your food and we think that this would work out.” And I loved the idea of it more than anything. Especially the spatial challenge. We had no kitchen at Beer Table. There was a convection oven, no dishwasher, no prep, no kitchen. When you take things away and you have bare essentials, it made me think about food in a different way. I always thought that fire was a bare essential but I realized that electricity is. I’m not as much of a Neanderthal as I thought I was. The timing was eventually right when Nicholas asked me again, and it just had to happen. He’s a fantastic partner.

What were you doing in Las Vegas? I was working for a gentleman named Jonathan Morr. He owns Republic and Bond St. We opened an Asian noodle restaurant called Mainland at the Palazzo Hotel and Casino. I created the menu, and I was also Jonathan’s consulting chef. I traveled from New York to Miami to Los Angeles to Vegas. I did consulting work for Thompson Hotels out there, creating their room service menu. I also lived and worked at Hotel Oceana in Santa Monica. I had no home for a year.

What was it like building the menu at The General Greene? I’m going to give a metaphor: me being here right now is, in some ways, like cutting in on a dancer. I’m about to dance with the pretty girl, so I’m cutting in and I have to keep up the pace for whatever waltz or jitterbug or lindy-hop they’re doing. There’s already a rhythm here; it’s a successful restaurant. Nick has asked me to work on organization, on execution, kitchen techniques, things like that, and keep up on the quality of products. It was a very big change to go from one burner to a stove and a downstairs and four to five cooks and a dishwasher.

What should we order on our first visit? We have bar snacks, and my favorite one right now is the bacon dates—dates wrapped in bacon and cooked in maple syrup. After that, you’d have to try the butter lettuce with a lemon vinaigrette, curried almonds and ruby-red grapefruit. I’m a big fan of ruby-red grapefruit. For me, they are a little sweeter, a better color, and before, we were using regular grapefruit on this dish. I also put collared greens on the menu, and these you have to try. They’re sautéed with garlic, red pepper chilies, and a squeeze of lemon juice. You have to try the chuck flap steak from Niman Ranch. It’s something known as a bavette, and it’s a tough kind of meat meant to be cooked medium rare. We grill it then slice it thin, and we serve it with a roasted garlic sauce with olive oil and Portuguese sea salt. It’s got a really hearty flavor. Then, you have to finish it off with a salty caramel sundae. It’s a hot caramel cake with salted caramel ice cream, whipped cream, caramel sauce, and then crushed, salted mini pretzels on top of it. It’s out of this world. You may have to stop by Nick’s Greene Ice Cream Cart as well.

How did you get involved with Le Fooding? It turns out, [Le Fooding founder] Alexandre Cammas lives in the neighborhood. His wife, Natalie, had actually had dinner at Beer Table, and so there was sort of a little match-making there, and they contacted me and came down to The General Greene.

What will you prepare for the September Le Fooding D’Amour event? I’m doing tête de veau tacos or “veal head.” It’s traditional barbacoa from San Antonio, Texas. I’m doing this classic recipe here, and I think it makes sense with the idea of the picnic setting. I actually smoked one of the cow heads today. They’re kind of scary looking. I’m going to be smoking about 40 of them for the event. They’re really kind of magnificent with the eyes, the skull, and the teeth.

Will New Yorkers embrace the Le Fooding concept? New Yorkers are all about food. I came here from Texas to cook. I returned to New York from Vegas because I felt that there was more of a focus on and interest in food here—from grocery stores to cooking at home. In keeping with this mentality, to me, it just seems like Le Fooding is a very natural thing. People will be attracted to this, and Alex’s interest in graphic design is reflected in the style of the event. Why would New Yorkers not want to come? I think that Alex’s goal is definitely going to be fulfilled.

What are your favorite bars and restaurants? Because I’ve been working at The General Greene so much, I’ve been limiting my going out to Brooklyn. I love Five Leaves and Char No. 4. They do a lot of smoked meat, and I butcher there on Mondays. Defonte’s in Red Hook is a sandwich place, and oh my God, it’s super yummy. I love the Skybox at Daniel. For drinking, I’m kind of a liquor snob … but when I feel like being a bit more on the rowdy side, I go to the Palace Cafe in Greenpoint. Budweiser and Jack & Coke is about as sophisticated of a drink you’ll get there. All of these places are in keeping with the same mood.

Nicholas Morgenstern and Julie Farias photographed by Michael Harlan Turkell.

Vegas Casinos Crapping Out on Recession

The crapped-out economy has hit Las Vegas hard. With the city’s industry crashing like casinos were Chryslers, everyone from CEOs to chambermaids is muttering that “It’s never been this bad.” And, well, it hasn’t. Gambling revenues tumbled, with the take on the Strip’s tables dropping 15% in January (compared to January 2008). Moody’s Investors Service has repeatedly downgraded virtually every casino company — MGM Mirage twice in a week! — citing “aggressive and substantial debt-financed development activity and earnings pressure from slowing consumer spending trends that began in fiscal 2008.” In short: Casinos went into massive hock to expand extravagantly. Then everyone got The Fear, and blowing five grand on blackjack and bottle service became less appealing. Well, not less appealing, but more difficult to get away with on a regular basis.

MGM Mirage (MGM Grand, Mirage, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, etc.) is struggling to complete its sprawling City Center project. The company was forced to sell the Treasure Island casino to a Kansas billionaire when banks refused further construction loans. The complex’s centerpiece was to be the Harmon Hotel, a shimmering boutique tower designed by celebrated architect Lord Norman Foster — which was chopped in half in mid-build, reportedly due to construction problems and evaporating condo sales. Even with cutbacks and postponements, MGM Mirage is scrambling to restructure debt and float this thing until it opens in the fall.

The Fontainebleau — a sister property to the Miami Beach hotel — is believed to have enough cash to complete construction and open in October. But both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s are going negative, and some wonder whether the high-tech, high-style resort will sell enough of the all-important condo units to survive.

Another project in limbo is Echelon Place, which was to have contained Vegas’ very own Mondrian and Delano Hotels. Boyd Gaming (Sam’s Town, Orleans, Gold Coast, Main Street, etc.) had to suspend the project when a chunk of financing fell through. Man, they better not have torn down the Stardust for nothing.

The Sands Corporation (Venetian, Palazzo) has been ousting executives and cutting costs — but it’s also opening casinos in Singapore and, erm, Pennsylvania. CEO Sheldon Adelson (Forbes’ third-richest man in America — last year) has expressed confidence in thundering tones, but he’s already had to pour a billion dollars of his own money into the company to meet loan requirements, and may be looking to offload some of his interests in Macau.

Station Casinos (Green Valley Ranch, Red Rock, Aliante, Boulder Station, etc.) is scrambling to renegotiate with bondholders as the clock ticks toward an April 15 bankruptcy filing deadline. Boyd Gaming offered to buy most of Station’s properties, but Station’s Fertitta family rejected them. Boyd persists, meaning we may have a good, old-fashioned casino family war between the Boyds and the Feritttas. Station’s plans for a luxe Strip property — Viva — have died quietly.

So, who isn’t putting a poker face on panic? Well, Boyd Gaming has enough cash to buy other casinos, even if they have halted new ones. Hilton announced that it will take over the foreclosed-upon Cosmopolitan Towers project as one of the launching pads for its new Denizen hotels brand. Wynn Corporation seemed to be weathering the tsunami, but Steve Wynn’s just-announced divorce from wife (and longtime boardmember) Elaine Wynn could cause chaos. Both have lawyered up — Elaine with Don Schiller, who got one of the biggest divorce settlements is history for Juanita (Mrs. Michael) Jordan. Nothing like watching billionaires divorce to take everyone’s mind off of their own bottom line.

Industry Insiders: Ludo Lefebvre, Lavo’s Messenger of Happiness

The creator of the Mediterranean masterwork menu at Lavo at the Palazzo in Vegas, chef Ludo Lefebvre on his rebel image, the year of the Aries, and succumbing to In-N-Out.

Where can you be found when kitchen duty is over? I like L’atelier de Joel Robuchon. The food is perfectly executed, and it is a comfortable environment. I also like Picasso at the Bellagio and Mix at the Mandalay. My other two current choices in Las Vegas are found off the Strip. First, Lotus of Siam. When you pull in to the parking lot, you will never expect the quality of food you are going to have. As soon as you open the door and see all of the press and the awards on the wall, you know that it’s going to be a special experience. I really love that the chef is doing what she loves, and not worried about a fancy environment. No one eats the curtains and the plates, so does it really matter?

Casa di Amore is another local’s restaurant off the Strip. I walk in and feel like I am visiting Las Vegas 30 years ago. It’s very classic Italian. There is live music most nights. I’ve won some money here at the video poker machines, so maybe that’s why I really like it. When we finished Christmas dinner at home, we all decided to go to Casa di Amore for a nightcap. It is just that kind of place. Finally, my friend Martin Picard opened up a restaurant in Montreal called Au Pied du Cochon. I love his concept. It’s great, simple food and a friendly, comfortable ambiance. He says that when you go to a restaurant to eat salad, you have a problem.

How would you describe yourself? I want to describe myself like an artist at heart. I love to be creative, and my food is really an expression of who I am. I am a messenger of happiness for the customer.

Where does this love of cooking come from? As a kid, I would stay with my grandmother all the time, and she cooked every day. My grandpa had a big garden with lots of fresh vegetables, and every day I was with my grandmother in the kitchen, cooking with fresh ingredients.

Do you use some of your grandmother’s recipes today? No, not really. Of course I have some memories of her food. I’m from Burgundy, and we make a lot of stews. I remember my grandmother’s stews, with roast beef and potatoes and lots of vegetables. It was very simple food but just all about ingredients — fresh from the garden.

Who are people that you admire in the hospitality industry? I love Jean-Georges Vongericthen. He has amazing restaurants, and he creates so many different concepts. I really admire him for what he’s done. To create concepts that allow you to eat your own food around world — I think that’s amazing. To take care of just one restaurants its so difficult, but Jean-Georges handles so many — and every time I’ve been to one, I had a great experience. He’s very creative, and I love his philosophy of cooking.

What is your favorite restaurant of his? I really love Spice Market in New York. He also has Jean Georges in Shanghai. I love that as well. I think it’s the ambiance, the food, and everything.

What’s something that people don’t know about you? Well, I am a nice guy. I have a big heart. Most people think I’m crazy because I’m so passionate about my job. I know I scream sometimes, but I don’t bite. People will see my tattoos and think I’m a bad boy, but I’m a nice guy.

What’s on your radar right now? I’m trying to learn how to meditate. When I’m too upset about something and I need to calm down, I need to meditate. I’ll try to do a little more exercise like yoga or Pilates too. I need to take care of myself a little more.

What do you have in the horizon for 2009? They say it is my year. I am an Aries, and it’s the year of the Aries. I’m ready to take control of this year and see what the it is going to give me.

Let’s say I’m going to Lavo for dinner tonight; what should I order? I think you should have the pizza. It’s homemade dough with lobster, onions, truffle oil, and potato. I’m very proud of my pizza dough too. Pizza dough is all about the water, and in Las Vegas, the water is so bad. So I add minerals and create my own water, but it’s a secret. You should also get the sea bass and finish with the bread pudding. It’s sautéed like French toast.

What is your guiltiest pleasure? In-N-Out Burger. The Double Double.

Level V Sinks

If Hanson can’t make it, who can? At 10 a.m. yesterday, management was informed of the closing of underground Meatpacking club Level V, part of Steve Hanson’s B.R. Guest empire. It was one of four places closed. The others — Fiamma, Ruby Foo’s Uptown, and Blue Water Grill Uptown — were restaurants dependent on broker bucks, which are becoming quite endangered lately. Level V, on the other hand, was the underground lounge/club beneath Vento, the corner restaurant in that v-shaped building at 9th Avenue and 14th Street.

The Hanson team tried their best to have a separate identity for each place, but they did share bathrooms, and neither place ever gathered the kudos they sought. Even with the best location in town, Level V could never muster an A-list crowd, and instead settled to grab what came by. Its promotional theory was basically that of a spider: build a web in a busy spot and hope for your clients to fly into it. I asked an axed Level V employee why it didn’t make it and was told that the restaurant mentality never could grasp the necessities of club promotion. They could not grasp paying promoters and decided to keep every dollar for themselves. He said he was always asking them if they would, “rather have 50% of $50,000 or 100% of $15,000” but they never grasped it. The concept of a promoter-driven club diluting the Vento brand was the reason cited to opt out. Not dealing with lowlife promoters is one thing, but shutting the doors might be a bit worse.

I’ve never felt that the Vento brand was all that great anyway. All of Steve Hanson’s places are well run, and the food is always solid, but the atmosphere at Vento is very 1992, and Level V

Upon returning from his New Years’ Eve at the Fontainebleau in Miami, another source reveals that Steve was faced with a “huge cashflow problem.” The Dos Caminos in Las Vegas’ Palazzo Hotel, with a $20-million-plus-plus-plus build-out and launch, is doing — I was told — “A mere 150 covers a night. The entire casino and resort hotel has performed poorly.” My source said that “the mounting problems with this spot are so bad that only ego and thoughts of a terminal blow to the brand are keeping it afloat.” Still, more bad news comes from the newish restaurant Primehouse that he operates on Park Avenue South. Despite a $10-million-plus build-out and launch and a Himalayan rock-salt-tiled aging room for steaks, my source tells me, “It’s a bust.” She said, “There’s no more money coming down the pipe from the famous merger of Steve Hanson and Barry Sternlicht,” which seemed just a short while ago to be the greatest deal ever made. The real question here: If Steve Hanson isn’t making it, what does it mean for everyone else?

Las Vegas: Top 5 Places to Buy a Fabulous Outfit

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1. Barney’s New York (Shoppes at the Palazzo) – Quirky flagship store where the sculpture and décor are as fabulous as the clothes. An entire floor of handbags! 2. Bettie Page (Miracle Mile Shops) – If your idea of stunning is more Ava Gardner than Mischa Barton. Lace petticoat dresses and vintage-inspired lingerie. 3. Prada (Bellagio) – Their shop window compels women toward the craps tables in hopes of a big win. “Mama needs a new pair of shoes” has never had more meaning.

4. Annie Creamcheese (Shoppes at the Palazzo) Dress like a Hollywood fashionista in designer vintage. 5. Nanette Lepore (Forum Shops at Caesars Palace) – Queen of the pretty summer dress has a Vegas outpost.

Hennessy Global Design @ Lavo

BlackBook took on the infamous Vegas night last Friday to celebrate the release of our new Global Design Clubs guide with a lavish, Hennessy-fueled bash at Lavo in the Palazzo hotel. An expert staff of Hennessy honeys were on hand passing out choice cocktails like the Hennessy Ginger and the Hennessy Mojito to an appreciative and very attractive Las Vegas crowd already buzzing in anticipation of the hyper-hyped Oscar de la Hoya fight.

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The free-flowing cocktails and eye candy in the room were more than enough to lure the likes of Hoops legend Charles Barkley, who we spotted happily bopping along as Prince’s personal DJ, Rashida, broke it down on the ones and twos.

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Even Frank Thomas and the Oakland As dropped in for a cameo as local DJ M!ke Attack quenched their old-school thirst with classic tracks by Bay Area legend Too $hort. All in all, BlackBook and Hennessy rocked the night, which is more than we can say for poor Oscar de la Hoya the following day.

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