LAS VEGAS -- Even the best food critic in the world will have his or her hands -- and mouth -- full trying to keep up with the dining scene in Sin City.
There are new dishes and new restaurants to sample all the time. It's foodie heaven. There are menus for all tastes and budgets. I'm no expert -- my swelling physique might suggest otherwise -- but here are my favorite dining haunts discovered within the past year during two separate Las Vegas golf trips:
Jean Georges Steakhouse
How do I write this without insulting the other restaurants? I can't.
Jean Georges Steakhouse in Aria Resort & Casino Las Vegas served up the best meal. I should have splurged on a signature $65 steak or Maine lobster dish -- that's how high-rollers roll, right? -- but my selection of the soy-glazed short ribs was spot on. I also experimented by trying the Broiled Bone Marrow, which seemed to me to be more of a table decoration than an appetizer.
It just looks cool with a giant bone sitting on the table. The wine list is exhaustingly good.
TENDER Steak & Seafood
A set menu allowed me to taste a wide range of choices at TENDER, located inside the Luxor. I'm not a fan of cheese, but anybody who is would have been pleased with the cheese plate that came to the table, ranging from Bermuda Triangle Goat cheese to Purple Moon Cheddar.
TENDER also offers one of the largest selections of wild game on the Strip. I enjoyed the Wild Boar Sausage as an appetizer and Durham Ranch Bison Ribeye as one of the main dishes. My favorite portions came in the mini-soup tasting cups, which held Wild Mushroom soup, Lobster Bisque and America Kobe Chili. The creamed corn won a second heaping among a fabulous mix of sides.
Perio's Italian Cuisine
Perio's is a welcoming change to all the steak/seafood joints of the Strip's casino hotels. My limo ride to the restaurant might as well have been a time machine.
The first thing that caught my attention inside Perio's was the lounge singer cooing an old-time tune in the bar. It was vintage 1950s. I surveyed the crowd, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Rat Pack, to no avail.
At the table, I looked around again, fully expecting to see Tony Soprano. Perio's, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2012, oozes old-school Italian. The movie "Casino" shot scenes here. Celebrities like Perio's for its private seating and classic Vegas vibe.
The Garbage Caesar Salad might be the best -- most filling -- salad I've ever eaten. The main courses came family style. I can't pronounce or spell any of the dishes, pasta or otherwise, but they were all five-star quality.
Caesars Palace has upped the ante on the traditional Las Vegas buffet by opening the Bacchanal Buffet. They should call it the Bacchanal Feast. The opening created such a buzz that lines have been as long as four hours long to get in. This meal is definitely worth the wait.
The choices can be overwhelming. I suggest touring each station before piling food on the plate. Form a strategy first. It's easy to over-indulge on Italian or Asian food and forget about the seafood station (or vice versa).
And definitely leave room for dessert. I walked out the door with a cheesecake lollipop in hand, feeling like a kid in a candy store.
The Country Club
The Country Club inside the Wynn Las Vegas rates in my book as the coolest golf course restaurant around.
It's got ambiance. You're just as likely to see businessmen in suits and ties visiting for a power lunch as you are golfers in shorts and polos. It's got scenery. The patio overlooks the stunning waterfall behind the 18th green of the Wynn Golf Club.
It's got great food. The shrimp-and-grits appetizer is off the charts. Even something as simple as a burger tastes better at Wynn.
Mesa Grill Las Vegas
Of all the six or so steaks I've eaten along the Strip, the Mesa Grill's coffee-rubbed filet was the only cut of meat that completely vanished. It was off-the-hook spicy and a truly special dish.
If I were a betting man, I'd put money down that celebrity chef Bobby Flay's restaurant in Caesars Palace hits more home runs than strikeouts with its other dishes as well.
Dinner at STK at The Cosmopolitan -- the newest hotel-casino to open on the Strip -- felt more like a party than dinner. The restaurant was blasting tunes from the 1980s and '90s making conversation a bit tough, but it's a hip scene, nonetheless.
The chef's tasting brought out tuna tartar, a choice of salads, awesome lil' burgers with a "special" sauce and soft sirloin that melted in my mouth. I probably would not bring a new date here -- it's too tough to talk much over the music -- but for every other occasion, STK raises the bar on a night out.
Last fall, I sampled another star chef David Walzog at SW Steakhouse at Wynn Las Vegas.
The restaurant remains well-received by critics, earning the Four Diamond Award from AAA. It was also honored as the "Best Steakhouse in Las Vegas" by New York Magazine. If it's inside the Wynn, high-brow is the standard.
Old Homestead Steakhouse
The Old Homestead's original Manhattan location has been open since 1868, making it one of the longest continually serving restaurants in the United States.
Its Las Vegas location inside Caesars Palace continues that tradition of prime-aged, USDA, Texas-sized slabs of beef, whether it's sirloin, porterhouse or filet mignon. Its menu is a meat-lover's bonanza.