Here is a word that you will never hear me say when discussing my recent visit to Las Vegas: understated. And here are a few adjectives that I will frequently use: delectable, accessible and stunning.

If you haven’t been to America’s most famous casino/resort city since 1995, you will find the place unrecognizable from a culinary standpoint. Of course, the hotels on the Strip have infamously morphed into these Disney-for-grownups castles of elaborate décor with huge theatres, glamorous poolsides and, of course, acres of gaming floors. And that’s all well and fun, I suppose. But it’s the restaurant scene that led me to suggest to my stepdaughter, Mika, that we celebrate her 21st birthday in Las Vegas this spring.

Now, when you travel with your stepmother to Vegas, there’s a certain level of decorum followed that might not apply if you travel with your girlfriends (wink, wink). As a foodie herself, though, Mika was more than prepared to fully experience the dining scene with an enthusiasm that matched my own.

What stood out in our restaurant adventures was a lovely contrast consistent with everything Vegas. Our two best meals were both positive experiences, one courtesy of the “new” Vegas while the other was most definitely “old school.”

“New” Vegas was represented by Mizumi Restaurant, at Wynn Las Vegas & Encore Resort. This haute Japanese restaurant is truly a new installation at Wynn — it had its launch party just two nights before we went to dine! “Old School” dining was provided by Old Homestead Steakhouse; although a new fixture (6 months) at Caesars Palace, this classic steakhouse includes “circa 1868” in its signage, referencing its original NYC location.

I thought the easiest way to showcase our dining experiences was to present them in chart form. (This has the added benefit of making it seem official, like there should be a test at the end of the post!). While you can’t do a direct apples and oranges comparison of these two different cuisines, you can still appreciate the finesse of both dinners, which were at polar opposites in culinary style.

First, though, let me whet your appetite with some visual evidence!

Mizumi, Trio of Cold Plates: Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno Gelée, Wagyu Beef Tartare, King Crab in Taro Tacos

Old_Homestead_Shellfish Platter
Old Homestead Steakhouse, Shellfish Platter: Maine Lobster, King Crab, Shrimp, Oysters

Impressed? It only gets better — read on!

Style Modern Japanese Classic American
Décor Spacious, modern and airy; white and red colour scheme, clean lines, seating by a waterfall. Textbook chophouse atmosphere: dark wood, low lighting, big chairs and tables; cozy (the low lighting made food photos a challenge — do forgive the dark shots).
Wines We chose the wine-matching program, to go with each course. A nice mix of sake, whites and reds. Classic cocktail (Negroni) followed by Robert Biale “Black Chicken” Zinfandel from Napa.
Amuse/Starter  Kumamoto Oyster
– Simple and clean.
 Warm Rolls and Cornbread
– Comforting.
First Course Warm Mushroom Salad on Mizuna Greens with Tempura Zucchini Blossom
– Fresh, mild flavours; pretty.
Shellfish Platter: Maine Lobster, King Crab, Shrimp, Oysters
– Flamboyant: a grand platter of ice with an architectural arrangement; lots of lemon and condiments.
Second Course Trio of Cold Plates: Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno Gelée, Wagyu Beef Tartare, King Crab in Taro Tacos
– A crispy taro chip made the taco shell; sashimi beautifully cut.
Steakhouse Wedge Salad: Chilled Iceberg, Maytag Blue Cheese, Bacon, Extra Dressing (on the side)
– Ice-cold, palate-cleansing lettuce, with loads of quality blue cheese. Note: we split the salad — that photo below is a half-order!
Third Course Robatayaki Platter: Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus, Shishito Peppers, Miso Cod, Quail, Pulled Pork
– Japanese-style BBQ: a long grill for small skewers; the flavours were simple and proportionate (ie. the bacon did not overwhelm the asparagus).
A well-needed pause
– After consuming the seafood platter and about 4 ounces of blue cheese, we needed a little break!
Fourth Course 72-hr Braised Wagyu Beef Shortrib on Satsuma Potato Purée
– I’ve had good sous vide dishes and very poor ones, and this one was the BEST I’ve ever had. The slow-cooked beef absolutely melted on the tip of my tongue and the flavour and texture integrity was improved by the cooking technique. The accompaniments were simple, so as not to take away from the beef.
Surf & Turf: Broiled Lobster Tail and 4oz Prime Beef Tenderloin
– The lobster was perfectly cooked (I tend to be anxious about lobster in restaurants — often it’s not fresh enough, or it’s overcooked); the beef was a perfect blue-rare, as ordered. Portions were as expected: grand. I felt bad that I couldn’t eat everything.
Fifth Course Mizumi “Box Roll” of Snow Crab, Salmon, Asparagus & Avocado
– The restaurant’s signature sushi roll. We were surprised to have it served after the beef, but it worked beautifully as a palate-cleanser.
 Another much-needed pause.
– We didn’t think we had room for dessert, but…
Dessert Melon Soup & Sorbet/ Coffee Crème Brûlée
– Simple desserts; not quite as innovative as the rest of the meal, but not too rich, either.
Cast Iron–Baked Chocolate Chip Cookie with Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
– The staff overheard me saying “happy birthday” to Mika, and brought over their signature dessert. Even sharing it, we barely made a dent — but it was definitely Vegas-style!
Final Notes We saw an actual hummingbird fly near the open window overlooking the waterfall — you couldn’t have scripted something that perfect and serene! The service certainly stood out: exceptionally attentive without being intrusive (and a great dining room for people-watching!)

Here are a few more pictures from our meals.

Mizumi, Robatayaki Platter: Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus, Shishito Peppers, Miso Cod, Quail, Pulled Pork

Old Homestead Steakhouse, Steakhouse Wedge Salad

Mizumi, 72-hr Braised Wagyu Beef Shortrib on Satsuma Potato Purée

Old Homestead Steakhouse, Surf & Turf: Broiled Lobster Tail and 4oz Prime Beef Tenderloin

The idea of this chart was not to make an “Iron Chef” match out of the meals; after all, they were entirely different. Still, if I were to pick a winner (and since it was Vegas, and there was a big boxing match that weekend in addition to the Belmont Stakes, the idea of picking a winner is not out of line), I’d have to say the Mizumi took the prize.

Mizumi offers a bit of an escape from the frenetic over-stimulation of Vegas: modest portions, a pleasing dining room and simple, clean flavours. Altogether, such an enjoyable evening. If you want to dive into all that Vegas offers in big, brassy flavours and portions (you know, that Sinatra & Martin standard-singing swagger), then Old Homestead Steakhouse is the choice for you. Regardless: Start planning that trip right now!

Anna_OlsonProfessionally trained pastry chef Anna Olson is the host of Food Network’s Bake with Anna Olson. Anna’s culinary philosophy is based on a common-sense approach of cooking and baking with the seasons, as well as respecting the ingredients, the technique and the process of sharing with others through food. Most of all, cooking and baking should be fun!