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Table talk: Mandalay Bay Resort, Las Vegas

Table talk: Mandalay Bay Resort, Las Vegas

Fleur, Huber Keller's upscale small-bites restaurant at Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas dining in 2012 is a far cry from the monotonous culinary landscape of 20 years ago. Sure, you can still find the $10 all-you-can-eat buffet (if that’s your thing). But today Vegas boasts world-class chefs with enough Michelin stars among them to form their own constellation.

Over lunch recently at Fleur, Hubert Keller's upscale small-bites restaurant at the Mandalay Bay Resort, the James Beard award-winning chef ticked off only a handful of restaurants that have made Sin City a destination for high-rolling foodies ever since Wolfgang Puck's Spago delivered fine dining to the desert: Restaurant Guy Savoy (chef Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace), Yellowtail (chef Akira Back at Bellagio), Au Bouchon (chef Thomas Keller at The Venetian), and L’Atelier (chef Joël Robuchon at MGM Grand).

Fleur's Hubert Keller

But Keller (whose Fleur de Lys restaurant is a revered San Francisco landmark) isn't the only celebrity chef Mandalay Bay houses under its vast roof: There's Michael Mina's Stripsteak; Charlie Palmer's Aureole; Alain Ducasse's miX;  Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken's Border Grill; and even one restaurant from the guy who started it all, Wolfgang Puck's Lupo.

And the proverbial icing on the cake is executive pastry chef  and master chocolatier Vincent Pilon, whose toothsome creations are as beautiful to the eye as they are delicious on the tongue.

Aureole's three-cheese ravioli, smoked salmon, baby artichoke barigoule and lemon thyme foam.

New York celebrity chef Charlie Palmer opened Aureole at Mandalay Bay in 1999, bringing Manhattan panache to Vegas. Like it's namesake in NYC, Aureole offers consistently innovative dishes: A recent dinner there was a six-course gift that kept on giving: beef consomme gelee with shaved fois gras and Australian winter truffle; "colossal" shrimp termidor with foribidden rice cake, sweet chili sauce; California line-caught sea bass with wilted Swiss chard, caramelized onions and matelote reduction; and coconut-scented cheesecake wiht Malibu Rum caramel.

The four-story

And because this is, after all, Las Vegas  – there's a bit of dinner theater in the form of the four-story "wine tower," which holds 10,000 bottles of the restaurant's 50,000-bottle wine list. From outside the restaurant, passers-by can watch black-lycra clad "wine angels" retrieve bottles by clipping into a system of cables and pulleys, swaying in balletic arcs as they ascend. (Funny how the bottle they need is always at the top!)

Chocolate "shoes" created by Mandalay Bay master chocolatier Vincent Pilon.

This wedding dress - and accessories! - are made entirely from chocolate.

Vincent Pilon's mastery of the chocolate medium is is well-known: He won the Food Network's 2005 Chocolate Challenge and three successive Food Network chocolate competitions. The French-born and trained Pilon came to Mandalay Bay in 2007 after five years at Bellagio and three years at The Rio. Today his architectural chocolate creations are in demand for weddings, conferences and special events. For those who can't afford a wedding dress made entirely of chocolate, you can purchase one of his signature cupcakes at the resort for you own little taste of Pilon magic.

The pools (including the hugely popular wave pool) and beach at Mandalay Bay are a huge draw at the resort  – after all, you have to do something to justify eating all that great food, right? During the summer, months, the resort brings in popular music acts, such as the recent show featuring Colbie Callait and Gavin McGraw. Stake out your place in the sand, or better yet  –  wade into the pool and watch while keeping cool in the warm desert evening.

During the day, the Lazy River is a fun way to float downstream  – sure you just go 'round in one big circle, but it's a great way to beat the daytime heat.

Mandalay Bay's Shark Reef Aquarium (the only institution in Nevada accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and developed in partnership with the Vancouver Aquarium) is a fascinating attraction for kids and grownups alike. It's main tank  – at 1.3 million gallons  –  is one of the largest in the country, and stocked with sharks, rays, sea turtles and many species of fish. Those who have their dive certification can even don scuba gear and dive with the sharks.

Kids especially love the touch pool, stocked with rays that glide past under your fingertips, and a few horseshoe crabs. In addition, the aquarium houses giant pythons, Komodo dragons and crocodiles  – an surprising exotic wildlife exhibit in the middle of the desert.


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