PHOTO: Bellagio Hotel and Casino. (TravelPulse file photo)
If there's one thing that's come to define Vegas, it's change. From a sleepy desert town to a gambling mecca to a family-friendly resort destination, the character of Sin City is constantly changing.
As 2016 brings another chapter to the desert, we're looking ahead at three ways Las Vegas is transforming itself once again.
Goodbye molecular gastronomy, hello food
We can all breathe a sigh of relief: Molecular gastronomy is a thing of the past in Vegas. You can once again enjoy your meal. This year, Las Vegas is implementing a refreshed version of classic food service – and a whole lot more – as the destination welcomes more millennials, more international guests and transforms to meet the demands of a technological age.
“Restaurants are beginning to resurrect the ‘classic’ dining experience that has been seen in the past,” Aria Executive Chef Anthony Amoroso said.
Rather than focusing on passé gimmicks and all the bells and whistles of out-of-the-box techniques, chefs and restaurants are looking to elevate the dining experience by mastering the core elements of service and cuisine. For example, the recently opened Italian-American restaurant Carbone at ARIA offers a table-side cut of veal parmesan and presentation of the banana flambé, while Bardot Brasserie at ARIA features a classic roast chicken.
Joshua Smith, executive chef at Bardot Brasserie, agrees that restaurants are returning to the basics. “Guests just want honest food – no tasting menus, no micro herbs, no ‘deconstructed’ – just an authentic dining experience.”
Of course, where would we be without social media? Possibly catering to a more Instagram-worthy dining experience, the city’s establishments will focus on plating, according to celebrity chef Rick Moonen.
Along with plating, guests are turning away from the “fine” dining experience and moving toward comfortable design, as seen in restaurants such as Alain Ducasse’s Rivea at Delano Las Vegas.
While “comfort” and “classic” seem to be buzzwords in the Vegas food scene in 2016, don’t think that there won’t be a focus on clean eating.
“Not only are we seeing trends in how chefs present their food, but we are seeing trends in spices, types of food and what is being put in the food people are eating,” said Moonen. “People are looking to go back to the basics with cleaner and healthier food. Artificial flavoring will be the enemy in 2016. Guests will start to see bold flavors and spices used in African and Indian cuisines and many other diverse cultures. Along with these bold flavors, restaurants will begin to offer guests more alternatives, vegetarian options and even more gluten-free options. Twenty-sixteen will be a year of trying new things along with dining at restaurants with cleaner menus.”
Expect to see vegetables take a center stage with dishes such as Aria's Bardot Brasserie offering of Parisian gnocchi with black trumpet mushrooms and celery root; cauliflower steak at Jean Georges Steakhouse; roasted panisse and confit sweet bell peppers served at Rivea; and Lago by Julian Serrano at Bellagio’s extensive list of veggie-based shareable plates for vegetarian and meat-eaters alike.
“It’s become increasingly important for chefs to cook cleaner, nutrient-dense food,” said Amoroso.
Another new trend taking over Vegas this year: the chicken sandwich. Yes, as travelers are becoming more aware of their health, they are requesting alternatives to the beef burger. In response, chefs are vamping up the chicken sandwich options on their menus.
“In the next few years, we will see a significant rise in popularity of the chicken sandwich in Las Vegas,” Amoroso predicts. “Restaurants know that this is becoming a menu item that is high in demand and will influence the burger-heavy culture that we currently see in the city.”
Where to find the best chicken sandwiches? Try the marinated chicken breast sandwich at Burger Bar at Mandalay Bay or the chicken saltimbocca sandwich at Five50 Pizza Bar at Aria.
As far as what you will be drinking, chefs and mixologists are noticing a heavy influx of mezcal on menus. The spirit has found its way into libations on The Strip, such as Lago by Julian Serrano’s smoked peach margarita, made with El Silencia Joven Mezcal. Hecho en Vegas at MGM Grand presents a variety of mezcal, including its diablo rojo cocktail. Hakkasan at MGM Grand’s bird’s eye margarita offers Bird's Eye chili-infused Alipus San Andres mezcal.
Tableside beverage service will also be making a splash this year.
Hospitality for the International Traveler
The hospitality side will cater to three things in the coming year: technology, international visitors and an elevated guest experience. Mobile is key according to Shannon McCallum, ARIA’s executive director of hotel operations who noted the development of cutting-edge, consumer-based technologies that allow for growth of more mobile-centric services such as smartphone room keys, in-room ordering, mobile-friendly website platforms and the ability to shop or pay for attractions directly from a mobile app.
Hotels are also catering to the needs of the international traveler, particularly the Chinese market.
“The number of international travelers to Las Vegas grows each year and, as a result, hotels are always looking for more ways to make those guests comfortable,” said McCallum.
At Aria, for example, all in-room messaging is translated to multiple languages for ease of understanding and complimentary international television is provided to guests.
Aria has also introduced Baijiu, China’s national spirit and the most consumed alcoholic beverage in the world, to the spirit lists and cocktail menus at ARIA, Bellagio and MGM Grand.
Experiential travel is trending at the moment and, even in Vegas, hotels are capitalizing on this in a big way, providing unique experiences that guests couldn’t have anywhere else.
“Travelers are looking for educational experiences, a sense of exploration and discovery,” said Bellagio’s general manager, Olivia Brown. “With this trend, offerings such as going behind-the-scenes for a closer look at The Fountains of Bellagio or VIP/backstage passes to big ticket shows will take center stage.”
New Spa Experiences
Spa is making a resurgence in Vegas with high-tech treatments, a focus on wellness and social experiences.
Technology-driven treatments are becoming more significant in the spa landscape. Look for LED and tech-savvy treatments in 2016 to focus more on skin protection and maintenance via cell therapy and machine-based techniques, targeting the younger generation.
There will also be an increase in the number of spa offerings that combine the body, mind and spirit.
According to Spa Bellagio’s director of operations, Tammi Furce, wellness from within also will be a focal point of this trend, with treatments heavy on cellular restoration and deep stretching, such as Spa Bellagio’s Watsu and AquaStretch therapies – the only treatments of their kind on The Strip.
Taking the spa outside the traditional arena and supplanting it in a social setting will be prevalent in 2016 as well, with most hotels now offering poolside massages and treatments for both individuals and large groups.