LAS VEGAS (TheStreet) -- The holiday season means our thoughts frequently turn to food -- what to eat and where to eat it. Many of us will either seek out indulgences, or rush to satisfy cravings one (allegedly) last time before resolving New Year's Eve to diet.'Tis the season, therefore, to blow through those Christmas bonuses at some of the nation's top restaurants. As you survey the menu choices, be prepared to discover a variety of checkbook-ravaging dishes that will set you back hundreds of dollars. Some are worth every penny, true hallmarks of quality dining and testimony to culinary expertise. Then there are gimmicks, stunt dishes full of needless gold flakes and superfluous caviar. Sometimes the showman and the chef even collide. The acclaimed Fleur de Lys restaurant in Las Vegas, for instance has the "FleurBurger 5000," a $5,000 duo of Kobe beef patties. "Basically it is is a really good burger with a slice of foie gras and black truffles on top," says John Curtas, author of the blog Eating Las Vegas and a broadcaster. "Then you also get a bottle of Chateu Petrus. So, the burger is actually free, it's the wine you are paying for. Believe it or not, people actually order the thing." TheStreet took a look at some of the country's most extravagant meals, flashy and substantive alike:
The Canard a la Presse served at Restaurant Daniel in New York City is about as theatrical as a dining experience can be and an unabashed luxury for poultry lovers. The recipe dates back to the beginning of the 19th century and uses a wooden press built in the 1930s to extract the deepest possible flavor from a bird. Chef Daniel Boulud's preparation sees the duck marinated for at least 36 hours in a marinade of port, pinot noir wine, celery salt, chili flakes, bay leaves, coriander seeds and black peppercorns. It is roasted and the breast meat and legs are carved away. The remainder of the bird is put in the specially designed, antique "duck press" so the juices can be extracted and combined with orange juice, red currant jam cognac and butter to make a sauce thickened with both leftover juices and blood. The carving, use of the press, making of the sauce and plating of the dish is all done tableside with considerable flair. The price for the duck is $210 per person for a three-course menu (a $105 supplement to the $105 prix fixe menu).
Chicago Chef Jeff Goldfarb, who bills himself as the world's tallest chef, is auctioning his services on eBay for a personalized New Year's Eve dinner for two, cooked and served in their own home. The "buy-it-now" price of $50,000 includes a $10,000 donation to the charity Feeding America. Among the menu items Goldfarb has planned: a global selection of caviars; fried frog legs marinated in Cristal Champaign; Tasmanian sea trout with Spanish saffron brown butter; white truffle risotto; lobster bread pudding with a chive cream sauce; coq au vin with foie gras; a Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream sundae with 23 karat edible gold leaf and one of the most expensive chocolates in the world, amedei porceleana; and a special New Year's Eve bread that contains a hidden 24 karat Gold coin.
Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, on the 23rd floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Las Vegas, is the only restaurant in the U.S. under the watchful eye of Gagnaire, a three-star Michelin chef. His other acclaimed restaurants are in Paris, London, Tokyo, Dubai and Hong Kong. Curtas raves about Gagnaire's signature dish, Langoustine Five Ways, and considers it a can't-miss dish in which to indulge while in Sin City, especially served tartare with Campari-drenched turnips. For New Year's Eve the restaurant's acclaimed, traditional tasting menu is even more elaborate than usual, with two seatings throughout the night (the early is $195 per person, the later $395). Among the items are Osetra caviar, seaweed blinis, smoked fish carpaccio, cuttlefish cake with truffle butter and roasted foie gras.
Tired of pepperoni? Sick of Mushrooms? Confused by anchovies? On New York's Second Avenue, near the United Nations, Nino's Positano has been serving up a $1,000 pizza (which works out to a mere $125 a slice). Since 2007, owner Nino Selimaj has been slinging the pricey pies, topped with Maine lobster tail, four different kinds of Petrossian caviar, salmon roe, creme fraiche and a dash of wasabi. If the thought of cold, leftover lobster pizza the next morning doesn't do it for you, a cab ride will get you to Norma's at the Le Parker Meridien hotel and the famed $1,000 omelet served up for the past six years. The so-called Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata combines six eggs, lobster meat and a pile of caviar. For smaller appetites, and lighter wallets, there is a $100 variation of the plate.
Serendipity 3 in New York scoops out what it calls "The Golden Opulence Sundae" for $1,000 (which seems to be a popular price point for over-the-top food creations). Here's what your 10 Benjamins will get you: Start with Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream infused with Madagascar vanilla. Then add amedei porceleana (again, this is the world's most expensive chocolate). Up the cocoa factor with chunks of chocolate made from beans harvested along Venezuela's coast. Add an assortment of cherries and candied fruits. Then, because chocolate jimmies ("sprinkles" for anyone outside of New England) just won't cut it, the whole gloopy mess is covered in 23 karat edible gold leaf, topped with a gilded sugar flower and garnished with salt-free Grand Passion Caviar. It is all served in a Baccarat Harcourt Crystal goblet (yours to take home as a souvenir) with 18 karat gold and mother-of-pearl spoons.
Its not uncommon for sushi and sashimi lovers to rack up a $400-to-$600 tab per person at the restaurants of Chef Masa Takayama . But devotees attest that you get what you pay for at what may be the most expensive restaurant in the U.S. Run Omakase style, which leaves what you are served up to the choice of the chef, Takayama's New York City location is the only Japanese restaurant to have earned Michelin's three-star rating, its highest accolade. Its success has led to the opening of another Masa at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas. Both have an adjacent, less-expensive restaurant, Bar Masa. Amid all the aquatic decadence, staff say one particular item stands out as a signature dish and a must-have luxury for diners: creamy, salty Toro Tartare with Caviar. You may never look at tuna the same way again.
As December draws to a close, so does the tail end of white truffle season, which peaks in November (so mark your calendar for next year). Curtas says that one of the better $200 meals to hit Vegas is a white truffle dinner at Chef Luciano Pellegrini's Valentino. A particular dish he cited was the restaurant's bucatini, thick rolled spaghetti with a hole in the center. Adding a light cheese, butter and a healthy covering of white truffles was "downright intoxicating," he says. On his Eating Las Vegas blog, Curtas points out that many of Las Vegas' top restaurants jump on the autumn truffle bandwagon each year. He cites Spago's creative use of white truffles in vanilla ice cream and an excellent, once-a-year menu at Restaurant Guy Savoy in Caesar's Palace's. That creative use of a luxury ingredient bears witness to Vegas' emergence as a foodie mecca. "We probably have half a dozen restaurants here that are as good as any in the United States," Curtas says. "It is considered a badge of honor now to have a restaurant in Vegas." -- Written by Joe Mont in Boston. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Joe Mont. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/josephmont. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Get more stock ideas and investing advice on our sister site, Stockpickr.com.