Chef's tops, food's fine, place is posh, let's dine


HENDERSON, Nev. -- Just around the bend of the mountains in the southeast Las Vegas valley lies Lake Las Vegas, less than an hour and yet worlds away from the high-octane scene on the Strip and Downtown.

The area is even architecturally distinct, with a terra-cotta palette, arched doorways and oasis gardens adding up to a kind of Mediterranean chic.

The good life here arises from a well-conceived convergence of close-in views of the mountains and lake, homes priced in seven figures, upscale shops, top-tier hotels, genteel entertainment and fine restaurants.

Each of those dining establishments tucks into the landscape in its own special way.

• Reflection Bay Golf Club inaugurated the Lake Las Vegas dining scene in 1999 with an outdoors-loving restaurant then called La Chandele and subsequently renamed Mira Lago.

The bright and airy space overlooks a popular patio, and diners both inside and out enjoy a view of the lake and the mountains beyond.

The name change coincided with the arrival of critically acclaimed chef Roland August, whose previous career as a Hollywood actor took its final curtain call when he opted for an expanded role in the culinary world.

The menu displays an international influence, including Italian and Greek nods to the restaurant's Mediterranean context.

Mira Lago is open to the public, serving lunch Mondays through Saturdays, brunch on Sundays and dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Especially recommended: pistachio-dusted blackened prawn appetizer and pork osso bucco with port wine mushroom reduction and risotto.

• The Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas debuted in 2000, introducing the area to travel agents and meetings planners, and entering the upscale dining ranks with Japengo, which translates to "land of mystery."

High-style design materializes as avant-garde china, exotic accents and illumination from "Mediterraneanized" Japanese lanterns, while window walls showcase yet a different view of the lake and mountains.

There are any number of intriguing selections here, presented as firsts, seconds and main courses, and all featuring an elegant balance of the cuisines of Japan and the Pacific Rim.

But the centerpiece is the colorful counter manned by master sushi chef, Fuji, who transforms the daily delivery of fresh fish into savory works of art.

Japengo, a favorite of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Christopher Walken when the Hyatt was the backdrop for the filming of "America's Sweethearts," serves dinner Mondays through Saturdays.

Of note: woked spicy chicken with cashew nuts and sweet potato strings, and the dessert platter.

Medici Cafe and Terrace in the Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas was named one of • Early in 2003, the Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas opened its toney doors and sweetened the mix with Medici Cafe and Terrace, which was just named one of "America's 20 Best New Restaurants" by Esquire magazine. What's more, this dining emporium's pastry chef, Patrice Caillot, headed the winning team in this year's National Pastry Team Championship.

The handsome room, a study in cream and honey and peach, goes casual for breakfast and lunch and later softens the lights to become an intimate setting for Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. Service is also available on the patio, overlooking Florentine-style gardens.

Folded into a menu laden with first-class interpretations of land and sea treasures is a delightful section of "comfort food." Especially recommended: the "La Spontaneita" tasting menu with wine pairings.

• In late 2003, chef Roland August of Mira Lago extended his talents to the Falls Golf Club by opening the Vineyard, which welcomes folks to a cozy lodge setting and a patio that segues into an outdoor living room complete with fireplace and comfy furniture. The mountain panorama here is supplemented with a view of the title falls and a pond.

August is managing chef at both locations.

At the Vineyard, along with signature entrees, August crafts creative salads and panini; pizza and pasta; and desserts. An unusual take on lasagna earns its low-carb designation by replacing pasta with eggplant and adding a medley of other vegetables.

The Vineyard serves breakfast and lunch daily, dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays. Especially recommended: The Big Ribeye (served over what may be the best onion rings in the valley) and carrot cake.

• In addition to the more casual offerings in both hotels, the Casino at MonteLago Village features Tenuta's with a far-ranging menu, while the Village itself is anchored by Como's, which is overseen by chef Joseph Keller.

The Village is also home to Starbucks and Tutti-Gelati, soon to be joined by the Chocolate Factory and Dublin's Irish Whiskey Pub.

With three more resorts in the blueprints and more eateries heading for the Village, this is all just the beginning.

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