There are a lot of restaurant openings already planned for 2013. Here are the ones I have my eye on.
The Light Group invades Mandalay Bay: Mandalay Bay has turned four of their restaurants over to The Light Group. Red Square has already been renovated and reopened. In the meantime, Red White & Blue is being transformed into a casual American bistro called Citizens Kitchen & Bar, while Yellowtail’s Akira Back will reportedly be involved in a still-unnamed Asian concept in the space that once housed China Grill. Light restaurants tend to do best when they have a nightclub nearby, so the company has partnered with Cirque du Soleil to create/revive Light Nightclub where Rumjungle used to operate. The big question: Will the restaurants be catering to the pre-club crowd (which has always been Light’s strong suit), or the families flocking to Mandalay to see the coming Michael Jackson/Cirque show?
The Nobu Hotel: Nobu Matsuhisa’s name was once synonymous with exciting, cutting-edge cuisine that attracted foodies from around the world. So why does his restaurant at Hard Rock Hotel seem so tired these days? The folks at Caesars Palace (home to one of the town’s most ambitious restaurant programs over the past few years) must think he just needs to do something bigger and better. So they’re giving him an entire hotel tower (set to open in February) with a lobby doubling as the world’s largest Nobu restaurant. He’s even designing the room service menu, complete with his first-ever breakfast offerings.
Fat Choy: After time in the kitchens of Joel Robuchon and Comme Ca, people were shocked to see Sheridan Su set up a couple of hot plates and a steamer in the lobby of a hair salon. Yet his Great Bao Café was a huge success, drawing lines out the door ... until he was evicted last July. He’s now landed a spot in the low-rent Eureka Casino, taking over the spot that once housed Teddy’s Bar & Grill. While it’s obviously a step up from the salon, word is he’ll be serving his amazing bao sandwiches alongside holdover menu items like a Philly cheesesteak to satisfy longtime Eureka customers. Hopefully, Su’s original cuisine will draw enough real foodies to allow him to ditch the diner food.
Andrea’s: When Wynn Las Vegas opened its doors in 2005, its chef-driven restaurant program was a highlighted component. Wynn and Encore have taken some flack over the past few years for losing most of those big-name chefs, and concentrating more on their nightclubs than their food. Now comes Andrea’s, a new restaurant totally integrated into the Encore Beach Club/Surrender complex. To run the kitchen, he’s brought in Executive Chef Joe Elevado, who worked at Nobu when it was a hipster hotspot and then helped make the Light Group’s Social House one of the most popular spots in town among the Hollywood crowd. If anyone can integrate great food and a club vibe, it's Elevado.
Shawn McClain’s second Aria restaurant: Since Aria opened its doors, Shawn McClain’s Sage has remained my favorite spot to celebrate special occasions. Now we’re hearing word that the Chicago chef is planning a second spot in the space that was once home to the Skybox Sports Bar & Grill. There’s no word yet on a name or a concept, but I can’t wait to see it. UPDATE: He's taking over the former Skybox Sports Bar and Grill spot for his new East Coast-themed concept, Five50 Pizza.
Park On Fremont: Despite a few notable highlights (Eat, Le Thai), dining continues to be the biggest disappointment in downtown redevelopment. Fortunately, there’s a lot on the horizon for this year. The place I’m particularly interested in is Park on Fremont. Sure, the gastropub concept is played out. If there’s one spot that could use one, however, it’s the prime block of the Fremont East Entertainment District that hosts so many great bars and one great restaurant -- but no place to enjoy great booze and good food under the same roof (or better yet, in an outdoor beer garden). The fact this newcomer is replacing the mediocre Maharajah Hookah Lounge is an added bonus.