Trendy eateries tempt visitors to the table

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LAS VEGAS -- The hot-hot-hot culinary scene that now defines Las Vegas continues to find ever more innovative ways for visitors to enjoy a sojourn at the table.

Three recent arrivals not only illustrate that point but also generate headlines as each in its own way is a "restaurant rarity."

This high-profile trio demarcates a geographic diagonal that, in turn, taps into the runaway northwest corridor, establishes an unexpected dining opportunity on the Strip and ventures into somewhat new territory to the southeast.

Adding to their collective newsworthiness is the major name connected with each of them.

Le Cirque first captured the spotlight in New York, soon to be followed by any number of prestigious awards, and has remained dominant there for years.

Its ruling force, the Maccione family, subsequently opened replicas inside the hotels of a few other travel destinations, most recently the Bellagio here.

Then in late 2002 the family, and more specifically the three sons, executed a unique move.

Tre is the Maccione family's first restaurant outside a hotel, the first outside a city hub and the first to carry a name other than Le Cirque. They opened Tre -- so named in honor of Mario, Marco and Mauro Maccione -- in the northwest sector of Las Vegas, their first restaurant outside a hotel, their first outside a city hub and their first to carry a name other than Le Cirque.

Was it viewed as somewhat risky?

"Some of my family members said I was just nuts," Mario confides. But it's a risk that is paying off as the handsome and contemporary structure is drawing a fine cross section of customers.

General manager Greg Jarmolowich describes a diverse bunch at lunch, older folks in the early dinner hours, "industry people" (casino workers) after 8 p.m. and a late-night wave beginning around 9:30 p.m., especially on weekends.

And now Strip visitors are also discovering this Le Cirque sibling, where the prices are a little different, where the Italian dishes

display some other Mediterranean influences as seen in the couscous and chick pea puree and apple-date chutney, and where the surroundings are far removed from the usual tourist experience.

Tre won't remain a "local secret" for long.

Those who tend to stay in the Strip vicinity may come upon a bit of a surprise at the redesigned Neiman Marcus inside the newly renovated Fashion Show mall.

Shoppers visiting the children's department will find an entrance to the new NM Cafe, a clean-lined and contemporary stopping point for a quick bite.

Of course, many department stores offer cafe service, so as nice as this is, it's not the surprise.

That, instead, resides just adjacent to the Chanel couture display, where a discreet double-door entryway leads to a warmly hued, wood-paneled corridor that serves as transitional space between the hustle of this particular outside world and the fine dining experience that awaits within, an amenity seldom found in a mall or in a department store.

Called Mariposa, it welcomes guests into a comfy dining room brushed with a restful medley of grays and cinnamony reds and honey tones, flanked by a colorful and counterpointing lounge to one side and to the other, a window wall that panoramically frames the streetscape and beyond.

Diners at Mariposa, including a significant locals component despite its Strip location, benefit from the expertise of executive pastry chef Jesus Ormelas; manager/sommelier Charles VanLandshoot, who notes that their list "features fantastic wines from all over the world ... including great champagnes by the glass"; and chef de cuisine Bridget Lieb.

Despite her youth, Lieb has a sparkling resume that lists top-notch positions at Le Cirque in New York, plus Aureole, Alize and the now defunct London Club in Las Vegas.

Her purist creations favor such ingredients as lobster, smoked trout, French cheese, wild mushrooms and caviar, which share menu space with a fine selection of beef, chicken and seafood dishes.

Desserts du jour may be a hazelnut cream tower or mango parfait or warm chocolate-and-banana tart. Even so, pricing is reasonable, with lunch selections in the $12 to $18 range and dinner entrees starting under $20.

Visitors and locals alike are discovering a new addition to the Las Vegas cuisine scene that is quite close in, and yet the only full restaurant in sight.

Just south of the airport is the still-growing Marnell Corporate Center, which houses Panevino, and the whole of it, including this first company venture into a free-standing restaurant, is under the auspices of the same Anthony Marnell who built Rio Suite Hotel and Casino (subsequently sold to Harrah's).

For those who may be familiar with Panevino in San Diego, indeed the same Italian-born team operates this restaurant for Marnell.

The evidence on the plate at lunch and dinner takes shape as pastas, sauces, breads and more made on premise.

The Tuscany region, with its emphasis on rustic dishes flavored with intense natural extracts, most influences the menu and translates to an authentic array of pizzas and pastas, soups and salads, veggies and risottos, seafood and landfood.

Some of these dishes plus retail items also are available to go or to stay in the adjacent Panevino Gourmet Deli.

It all takes place inside a brick-red edifice fronted by a reverse sweep of timber-enhanced glass with that curvilinear styling repeated several times over in the interior.

Every table in the dining room and every seat in the lounge (which features soundless slot machines inset in the bar) comes complete with a view of the Strip, airport and surrounding areas.

Clients interested in group functions will find something to love at each of these fine restaurants.

At Tre, the section farthest from the door is curtained off for events during regular business hours to accommodate parties of 10 to 70.

An even more intriguing possibility, though, is presented on weekends when the restaurant is closed for lunch and, accordingly, made available -- with no room fee -- for showers, receptions, any kind of function with at least 10 to 15 people.

The floor plan at Mariposa enables the restaurant to host parties of different sizes and different formats.

The actual private dining room, artfully designed in rich woods with frosted glass doors and its own window wall, seats 36 guests.

However, thanks to a flexible space just outside the private room and that adjacent colorful lounge, larger parties can fit in just fine -- and the largest of groups can simply buy out the entire restaurant.

Panevino offers a spectrum that is anchored at one end by an innovative chef's table and at the other by a room that can hold a veritable crowd of meeting or partying souls.

That chef's table is tucked into an extraordinary, tall leather booth that sits squarely in front of a semi-exhibition kitchen and treats 14 group members to a view of the action and chef-narrated courses.

Then, on the other side of the attached deli, three banquet rooms can be configured to hold smaller groups (as few as two) in one half of either of the side rooms, medium groups in an entire side room, large groups in the central room or gatherings of almost 200 by combining all three, and according to marketing director Monica Martarano, all feature state-of-the art audio-visuals.

Just when it seems there couldn't possibly be one more news flash regarding Las Vegas restaurants, along come three more places with tales to tell.

You can now give your clients that inside story on Tre, Mariposa and Panevino, including their status as local favorites.

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