I’ve taken more than a dozen trips to Las Vegas over the last five years and one thing I can say as far as vegetarian food goes it’s either spectacular or it’s barely existent. You’d think with those of us who don’t eat meat clearly growing by leaps and bounds these days menus would be adding options we could sink our teeth into. Well I’m here to say sadly that isn’t always the case. A lot of Chefs, ones highly acclaimed and not, just still can’t seem to get their act together to come up with innovative meat-free options. Let me take you on my dining adventure during my latest trip:
Thursday night: Just arrived and we are starving. It’s 8pm Vegas time, but 11pm back on the East Coast where we just flew in from. My husband wants sushi so I search opentable.com for a restaurant in our hotel (Caesars). I find “Sushi Roku” in the Forum shops. The description says they have sushi and other Japanese picks so I assume I’ll find something. Maybe a noodle dish or at least some vegetable dumplings. Turns out there are a few vegetarian options. Problem is I want noodles and I don’t see a meat-free noodle dish, but the waiter says they’ll make me pan-fried noodles with just vegetables. It’s so nice when restaurants work with vegetarians so I applaud them for that. The dish was just good enough to hit the spot. I just about ate it all. I hope I inspired them to put a vegetarian noodle dish on the menu permanently.
Thursday dessert: A smores crepe from Payard. We get it to go and bring it to our room. It’s absolutely sinful (as you can see). I want another one right now!
Friday breakfast: Crappy food court food at Caesars. Only one place is open. I just get eggs and a biscuit. They have bagels too, but I want a little protein. Boring, not much else to say. Well actually I could say the biscuit was $3.50 about $3 overpriced, but in Vegas they get you wherever they can baby!
Friday lunch: Finally a place with a few, innovative meat-free options. It’s funny everyone says the most vegetarian-friendly restaurant in Vegas is Mesa Grill and they are right. While this is the first time we are actually staying at Caesars we pretty much hit up Mesa Grill every time we are in Vegas. One of my husband’s favorite dishes on the planet is the Spicy Chicken and Sweet Potato Hash (clearly he’s not a vegetarian, but he’s hopefully on his way there). I instantly know every time we sit down there we’ll be starting with the Queso Fundido appetizer. I think it used to have sausage in it and I’d always tell them to leave that out, but now it’s all vegetarian all the time. It is a wonderful creamy melted goat cheese with colorful peppers (rajas) mixed in, served with tasty blue chips. I also dipped some bread from the bread basket in this time around and it was absolutely delish. For the main course I had a few choices. This is sadly unusual at a restaurant of this caliber. Usually there’s one veg option, but Bobby Flay does it right here and for that I truly applaud him. I’m torn between the Cornmeal Crusted Chili Relleno and the Wild Mushroom Quesadillas (an appetizer, but we all know quesadillas are a filling lunch). I could have also gotten a couple different salads, but I wasn’t feeling it. While I am intrigued by the Relleno (it is the dish I made for our final dinner in culinary school), I opt for the quesadillas because I knew the fundido would basically fill me up. I was actually full after that, but I just had to try another dish. The mushroom quesadillas were bursting with flavor. These aren’t your Mexican joint next door’s quesadillas. These are slathered with a white bean hummus, flavorful mushrooms, white truffle oil and a colorful sauce on the plate (perhaps pepper in origin). Next time I promise to try the relleno, though I’m sure I’ll have the same predicament! As far as veg-friendly meals goes I’d recommend Mesa Grill anytime. Oh wait I already did! We sold the place to a group of women we met at the pool.
Friday dinner: We were going to see the Beatles “Love” show at the Mirage so I picked a restaurant at that hotel. I looked through menus from their restaurant online and I settled on “Stack”. When I opened the menu at the restaurant though I couldn’t remember why I chose it. There really didn’t seem to be many meat-free choices at all. There was a tomato soup with a small grilled cheese sandwich on the appetizer side though so I settled on that. The waiter then let the wind out of my sails. I asked if the soup was vegetarian and it turns out it’s made with a chicken stock. Very disappointing. Why would you make a tomato soup with a chicken broth? Sounds lazy to me. Sounds like you have chicken stock laying around in the kitchen so you use that. Instead when they put an item like this on a menu they should be cognizant of things like that. #1: Wouldn’t you want to have a couple vegetarian options on your menu? #2: Doesn’t a veggie based broth lend itself better to a vegetable type soup? Obviously the chef here isn’t on the same page as me. I do have one question though? Meat eaters who order the soup wouldn’t care if it’s made with veggie broth so why not appeal to everyone here and just use the meat-free broth. This is just something I’ll never understand. You’d sell more soup if you could please all the people all time, rather than some of the people some of the time. Moving on! My husband actually orders the soup and gives me the grilled cheese sandwich.
All I’m left to order are side dishes so I order the fries and a vegetable medley. Everything actually turned out to be semi-tasty. The grilled cheese sandwich is decadent thanks to being slathered in butter. As for the fries, not the best I’ve ever had, but they are decent and the mixed vegetables are excellent.
What vegetables wouldn’t be good drenched in butter? Oh yeah note to everyone vegetables at restaurants aren’t exactly a health food options. Trust me having worked in kitchens I can tell you butter isn’t lightly thrown in. To a lot of Chefs butter is the only flavor they have up their arsenal. If you are looking for taste though sure it’s great and this time the veggies are tasty (as well the butter soaked gc sandwich I mentioned earlier). The best part of this meal though hands down is the dessert. Mini Jelly Donuts with a vanilla dipping sauce. I didn’t even need the dipping sauce. The donuts just melted in your mouth. So while this meal turned out to be okay you still have to look at the core issue here. Was it balanced? No. I didn’t exactly get much protein. Were there a lot of choices? Well there actually weren’t any choices. Stack clearly doesn’t stack up to the lunch at Mesa Grill that day therefore I don’t anticipate a return appearance for me there. Sorry Stack!
Saturday morning: We decide this will be our one buffet of the trip. My husband has been raving about this huge buffet at Caesars so we are excited to dig right in. It’s 8am, but the cashier tells us they are already serving brunch and it’s $26.95 a person. We know we probably won’t eat $27 worth of food, but my husband’s been raving about this so it should be worth it (well that’s what we were thinking). We walk in and see a small buffet (a little bigger than you’d see at a wedding) and we wonder “uh where’s the rest of it?”) I peruse the table and after taking the 20 steps it takes to walk the whole line realize it’s already mostly lunch food. It’s chock full of meats and not much else. First off we wonder where are the pancakes? Where are the crepes? How about some eggs florentine. If it’s a brunch where’s the variety of salads? Sadly they are nowhere to be found so we do what we’ve never done before, we walk up to the cashier and ask for a refund. Ha ha a refund at a buffet. It’s funny I know, but we hadn’t touched an ounce of food so what could they say? Funny thing is there was no argument. Makes you think this isn’t the first time someone saw that buffet and went running the other way. So what happened to the lavish buffet my husband went on and on about? Turns out new management wanted to use the big buffet space for something else. Okay a space issue. I can understand that, but then why build a puny buffet no one is going to want to eat at? Casino workers tell us everyone misses the buffet. I’m sorry every Vegas casino needs a big buffet. Hotels want to keep their guests inside their doors at all times, what they don’t want is what we did. We googled Vegas buffets and found there was a good one next door at the Mirage called Cravings so we took our craving for a buffet and stepped foot outside Caesars and right into another hotel. The cashier at Cravings said they were also already serving brunch here. The price was $5 cheaper and that was only the beginning of the good news here. This was the kind of buffet where you don’t know where to start. A paradise for meat-eaters, seafood lovers and yes for vegetarians! They had about 12 different stations from a sushi station to a breakfast station (with pancakes of course) to a crepe station and so on. Basically you name it this buffet had it. I loaded up on hash browns, eggs benedict (sans the Canadian bacon), a nice carrot raisin salad, pancakes, French toast and a breakfast burrito. So much I can’t remember everything. Then there was the dessert station. I had mini donuts, an unbelievable fritter that had a inch of glaze on it and some croissant bread pudding. Yep this is what a Vegas buffet is all about. It was all super yummy. Actually my husband said the corn bread was the best he’d had in years and he loves corn bread. The good news this buffet rocked, the bad news we exceeded our daily caloric intake for the day and walked out feeling like we had gained several pounds. It was so worth it!!!
Saturday lunch: I know after that brunch you are probably wondering how we could have room for lunch? Problem is my blood sugar drops every few hours so regardless of how much I consumed earlier I need to refuel. We decide a light Asian meal would be good. So we again search opentable.com and find Chinois, a Wolfgang Puck restaurant in the Forum shops. I really don’t have a whole lot to say about this meal. Usually at Asian restaurants there are a lot of vegetarian options, here that just wasn’t the case. I think there was one item, but it was tofu and I wasn’t feeling it. Vegetarians like a little variety, you know? I asked the waitress for suggestions, and she pointed out the side dishes were mostly meat-free so I opted to just get a side of vegetable fried rice. So this is why I don’t have much to say about this meal. It was just veggie fried rice. I just wish Mr. Puck would take vegetarians into consideration. Yep won’t be returning here either.
Saturday dinner: My husband is surprising me and I am quite surprised to find he picked a Mandalay Bay offshoot of the restaurant we had our first date “China Grill”. I couldn’t remember if China Grill was vegetarian friendly, but my husband said he asked when he made the reservations so I am hopeful. The waiter quickly points out several meat-free items (one is an edamame and vegetable risotto) and they all sound spectacular. Can the Marinated Tempura Tofu with Mushroom Potstickers live up to his recommendation? Oh yeah! First of all the item is $18, but it’s an appetizer so I anticipate a small dish. Nope this was a huge plate with several potstickers and several pieces of tofu encrusted in a light tempura with kimchee aioli and an herb sauce. Contrary to popular belief that most vegetarians love tofu I don’t so I dig in with skepticism, but wow am I blown away. I will venture to say this is the best tofu dish I’ve had EVER!!!! It was such a big dish too, by the time my main course a Wild Mushroom Profusion Pasta with Sake Madeira Cream Sauce comes around I can barely gets a couple mouthfuls in.
I feel bad wasting such a great dish, but after that buffet in the morning it’s still hard to gorge again. Of course there was still room for dessert, Cheesecake Potstickers. They were very tasty and they were nice enough to write happy anniversary on the plate, which was a great touch since we were celebrating. The spectacular service and food make this a place we would return to without a doubt.
Sunday morning: Banana and juice at the spa. I needed this light meal to detox (at least until lunch).
Sunday lunch: We returned to a place we go everytime we are in Vegas “Stripburger”. They have a great, but messy veggie burger and fries with cheese that are the bomb. Add in some ranch dipping sauce for both items and I am in flavor heaven. Yes it’s clogging my arteries, but sometimes that’s the price you pay for enjoying yourself. Oh and we always top it off with a Butterscotch shake. The best shake we’ve ever had and the reason that really makes this a can’t miss restaurant.
Sunday dinner: This is the one dinner neither of us planned in advance. When I planned the trip I figured this would be a low-key meal, but now we decide since it’s our last night there we want to go all out. I search the Vegas tourism guide for some ideas, but I’m coming up empty. My husband suggests we stay at Caesar’s for dinner, so I read about all the restaurants in our hotel and nothing is really floating my boat. He suggests “Bradley Ogden” a restaurant we noticed downstairs, but I remind him I didn’t think the menu had any vegetarian options. I tell him he can call though to double check. When he calls the hostess actually says there are a few things they can do for me. So we decide it’s a date! For the appetizer course I’m offered an artichoke soup or a blue cheese soufflé. I opt for the soufflé and it’s even better than I thought it would be. It’s like two appetizers in one. In between two mini soufflés the plate is sprinkled with vibrant red beets and greens. Definitely a great flavor combination. For dinner I get a mushroom agnolotti. It’s great pillows of pasta filled with mushrooms and served with some asparagus and trumpet mushrooms.
It’s superb and I join the clean the plate club! Dessert was a great coconut flan. This meal was definitely a pleasant surprise. I was happy to know that a Chef like Mr. Ogden who promotes organic food came up with an innovative meal for this veg girl. I hope he puts more vegetarian items on his future. I imagine the meal I had is one even meat-eaters would love!
So that’s my Vegas vacation. Some great, some awful. Definitely harder to be a vegetarian in Vegas than it is in NYC, but I truly hope that changes as we vegetarians continue to make our mark on the world.