Stardust offers glimpse of Strip past, present

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y first visit to Las Vegas was in 1989. I remember driving in a huge traffic jam toward the middle of the Strip.

Looking ahead, I saw spouts of flame at the side of the road and thought that a car (or a hotel) was ablaze and folks were slowing down to take a look.

But no, it was nothing so pedestrian. The traffic was caused by rubberneckers, yes, but it was no accident they were gaping at. It was the volcano spouting in front of the brand-new Mirage, with the flame that heralded a new age for the city.

Fast-forward to 2002. The Hacienda, Sands, Dunes and the old Aladdin all have faded into oblivion. The Desert Inn, the New Frontier and perhaps even the famed Tropicana will follow.

Indeed, there are only a few properties remaining on the Strip that might have seen Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter and Joey all in one place at the same time.

One of those is the Stardust.

When the property opened in 1958, it was a jewel in the desert. It's 1,032 guest rooms and 16,500-square-foot casino both set new records for excess.

When the Stardust opened in 1958, its 1,032 guest rooms and 16,500-square-foot casino both set records for excess. Now, its 1,500 rooms and suites and 85,000-square-foot casino is a happy medium by Las Vegas standards. Now, with 1,500 rooms and suites and an 85,000-square-foot casino, the property is a comfortable medium in comparison with the 5,034 rooms and 171,500-square-foot casino at the current king of the jungle, the MGM Grand.

My, how times have changed.

In the room

I stayed in the West Tower during my visit last month, and the room size and decor were comparable with many of the more recent Strip arrivals.

Rich woods and neutral tones make up the majority of the furnishings. The bathrooms in the standard accommodations are of good size and done in black tile with matching solid-surface countertops.

All guest rooms have a color TV, an alarm clock, a wall safe and a data port for Internet access.

To have a view of the pool and the Strip from the West Tower, request an odd-numbered room, the higher up the better.

Going public

For public areas, the main spot -- as in just about any Las Vegas property -- is the casino.

The layout of Stardust's casino is a bit different than some others I've encountered.

Aside from the usual bombardment of slot machines that has become all the rage recently, the Stardust's table games area can best be described as a series of mini-casinos.

The table area is divided into several sections, with each area containing a sampling of each available game.

The logic behind this is quite simple: It enables the property to open different sections for play with a variety of games, instead of having games open here and there.

This gives the feeling of a fuller casino, although it does make it a bit of an adventure to find an open seat at any particular game, as a patron might be required to walk up and down the rows to find another open table instead of remaining in one area.

Another unusual public area at the Stardust is outside.

As the age of megaproperties has settled on the Strip, the era of the three-foot pool has followed. But not at the Stardust, an oasis for those who like to take a dip without having their feet touch the bottom.

With temperatures in the mid-80s, the main pool (there are two) was a popular area during the day, but there still were an ample number of lounge chairs available for passersby looking to catch some rays for a few minutes.

For those not looking for sun or casino fun, Stardust has a fairly broad assortment of shopping opportunities in its mini-mall area.

Magnets, T-shirts, jewelry and sports memorabilia are just a few of the items available for the souvenir shopper and serious collector alike.

For those with a sweet tooth, there is an Ethel M Chocolates shop on the property. Although it might not compare with touring the factory, it does serve as an acceptable substitute.

You gotta eat

For something a little more substantial, Stardust has five restaurants on site. William B's Steak House is the property's gourmet room. Tony Roma's, a chain restaurant known for its ribs, has a very broad menu to appeal to a variety of tastes.

Rounding out the selections are Sushi King for Japanese fare; the Island Paradise Cafe, a 24-hour coffee shop/diner; and the Coco Palms Buffet.

Notable by its absence is Tres Lobos, Stardust's highly regarded Mexican restaurant. The property closed the eatery following Sept. 11 and has not announced any plans regarding its future.

Danke Schoen

One future that still is pretty certain here is that of Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton.

In January 2000, Stardust opened the Wayne Newton showroom, which hosts its namesake's shows at various times throughout the year, along with guest performers such as Don Rickles, the Neville Brothers and Andrew "Dice" Clay.

For updated show information, call (702) 732-6325 or visit www.stardustlv.com.

Can I get there from here?

One possible problem visitors might perceive with the Stardust is its location.

Other than the Hard Rock shuttle, which picks up passengers outside the south doors, there really is no easy way to get to the newer properties on the Strip without a car or a taxi.

But though its location might be a bit of a disadvantage now, it could soon become one of the hottest spots on the Strip once Steve Wynn's Le Reve opens nearby on the other side of Las Vegas Boulevard.

Add to that the possibility of a new property being developed next door on the current site of the New Frontier, and Stardust will once again be at the heart of all the action in Las Vegas.

Room key: Stardust Resort & Casino
Address: 3000 Las Vegas Blvd. So., Las Vegas 89109.
Phone: (800) 824-6033 or (702) 732-6111.
Web:www.stardustlv.com
Location: Northern third of the Strip, between the New Frontier and the Westward Ho.
Built: 1958. Renovated and added West Tower in 1991.
No. of rooms: 1,500, including lanai suites in the villa section and balcony suites in the East Tower.
Raves: Friendly dealers and pit crew; one of the last pools on the Strip that is deeper than three feet.
Rants: Maid service is still terribly understaffed more than six months after Sept. 11.

On the menu: Eateries in and around the Stardust

Hugo's Cellar
Food: ****-1/2
Atmosphere: ****
Service: *****
Specialties: Tournedos-Hugo (tenderloin beef medallions topped with pate foie gras, artichoke hearts and sauce Bearnaise); Roast Duckling Flambe Anise (rubbed with licorice spices and flambeed tableside with Grand Marnier).
What's good: Bananas Foster.
What's not: The Roast Prime Rib of Beef was not as tender as one would expect.
Location: At Four Queens Casino Hotel, Las Vegas.
Hours: 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
Prices: For two people, with a glass of wine each, about $120 excluding gratuity.
Call:(702) 385-4011. Reservations required.
Review: This Downtown den of delights debuted more than 25 years ago and some have said that it is past its prime when compared with the chic eateries on the Strip. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Hugo's experience begins just a few steps down (or a short elevator ride) from the casino floor. The change of ambience is nearly instantaneous as the bright lights and cacophony of the casino quickly fade in favor the very (almost too) dim atmosphere of the restaurant.

The hostess is quick to greet guests and gives a red rose to every lady dining at the restaurant. Once seated, patrons are met by not one, but two waiters, making service swift and efficient. There was never a moment when our water glasses were less than full.

But the waiters serve other functions, too. Made-to-order salads are constructed tableside by one of the waiters from a wide range of ingredients that include bleu cheese cubes, pine nuts, anchovies, red onion and hard-boiled egg.

Similarly, flambe work also is done tableside, ensuring that the bananas foster will be as sinfully delicious as possible.

Perhaps the lighting of the room is a bit dimmer than normal to heighten the drama of the flambe experience, but some candlelight at the table would be a big help without spoiling the romantic mood.

For our appetizers, not-so-tiny crustaceans were the order of the day. The prawns used for the shrimp cocktail were huge and served with a horseradish-laced cocktail sauce that provided a zesty kick.

The Scampi Hugo, meanwhile, was delightful, with just the right amount of garlic to bring out the flavor of the shrimp.

The appetizer that got away was the Hot Rock Specialty, where the patrons get to do their own cooking of tenderloin of beef, swordfish, shrimp and chicken on a sizzling slab of granite. We did think about it, but passed on the notion of doing our own cooking.

For our entrees,we had the Cellar Chicken, stuffed with sun-dried tomato pesto and served with a roasted garlic sauce, and the prime rib. Both were served with mixed vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes.

The chicken was delightful, with the garlic again well balanced in relation to the other flavors on the plate.

The prime rib, however tasty, was a bit tougher that expected. And with the giant steak knife, it was a bit unwieldy to cut. For future visits, I think the filet mignon would be a more appealing steak choice.

For dessert, chocolate-dipped fruit is included with the meal, but for those who want to go the extra mile (or inch, as the case may be), Hugo's offers a selection of cakes, cheesecakes, pies and even creme brulee.

For the calorically adventurous, there are two flambe choices: The aforementioned to-die-for bananas foster and the cherries jubilee.

William B's Steak House
Food: ****
Atmosphere: *****
Service: *****
Specialties: Hefty portions of thick-cut steaks.
What's good: Anything beef.
What's not: Though the giant prawns in the shrimp cocktail were indeed giant, their toughness matched their size.
Location: At Stardust Resort & Casino, Las Vegas.
Hours: 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Prices: For two people, with a glass of wine each, about $100 excluding gratuity.
Call: (702) 732-6111. Reservations suggested.
Review: Tucked just off the casino floor is one of the better kept secrets of the northern part of the Strip, William B's.

Indeed, on the Friday night we were there, the dining room was fairly empty. A shame considering the much higher prices diners were paying for similar quality farther down the Strip for the concoctions of "name" chefs.

The room itself is a Victorian oasis from the hustle and bustle of the casino floor. The mahogany, glass and brass of the room serve as the backdrop for an unusual assortment of antique jewelry, pipes, spectacles and other knickknacks that evoke that turn-of-the-century feel.

But what stands out best is the food.

We started with French onion soup and lobster bisque. The onion soup held a marvelous blend of flavors in its rich broth, while the bisque contained very large chunks of very sweet lobster. Both were successes.

For an appetizer, we sampled the shrimp cocktail. The prawns were large and the cocktail sauce delightfully piquant, but my enthusiasm was somewhat muted by the toughness of the giant crustaceans.

For entrees, the Steak au Poivre is a masterpiece coated in black pepper. Though some might prefer to scrape off all of the peppery coating, the flavor matches well with the boldness of the beef.

For those who seek something a bit more on the traditional side, the filet mignon (available in two sizes: large and very large) was succulent and tender beyond belief.

Finally, save room for the bananas Foster. It was just the right blend of sweetness and richness.

Ratings: Five stars, excellent; four, very good; three, good, two, fair; one, poor.

Reviewed by: Michael Nassaur, managing editor of TWcrossroads.com.

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