Thursday, Jan. 2, 1997 | 11:59 a.m.
"New York, New York, it's a wonderful town." Oops, add a hyphen and change those lyrics to "It's a wonderful Las Vegas Hotel."
New York-New York, which opens to the public at midnight tonight, is quite a wonderful place, with such whimsical re-creations of its namesake city as a lifelike, scaled-down version of the skyline, Lady Liberty in New York Harbor (complete with a small tugboat), a walking-sized Brooklyn Bridge and store-front exteriors.
Inside, on the walkway into Little Italy, manholes emit steam and postal boxes are covered with graffiti. Boxy room air conditioners protrude from the windows of apartments, located just like the real thing, above the stores.
Stroll through a Central Park highlighted with tall, spreading, lifelike trees and banks of slot machines.
If this is New York, then there must be good restaurant choices, plenty of variety and a wide range of prices.
New York-New York, following the trend among megaresorts, will not run any of the restaurants. Instead they have turned to restaurateurs with proven track records.
The New York-based Ark Restaurants Corp. will offer America, Gallagher's Steakhouse (a venerable New York meatery), Gonzalez y Gonzales and Village Streets, a fast-food court with a Greenwich Village and Little Italy theme.
Located in the food court are Greenwich Village Coffee Company, Sato's Cafe, Hook & Ladder, the Firehouse Retail, Greenberg's Deli, Sirroco's, Broadway Burger, Farm Fresh Ice Cream, Brew Pub and the Mango Hut, a fresh juice bar. Ark will also do all the hotel catering, room service, and operate the employee's dining room.
Ark President Michael Weinstein was an investment broker when he opened his first New York restaurant, the Museum Cafe, in 1975. Shortly after, he left the financial world for his new interest.
Weinstein's strength is in building one-of-a-kind restaurants (some as large as 1,100 seats) where the singular sites provide a special dining experience -- Sequoia on the Potomac River and America in the Union Station, both in Washington, D.C., are just a few. Also part of the Ark group is Lutece, arguably the New York standard for French cuisine.
New York-New York will house the largest group of Ark restaurants under one roof.
In charge of all Ark Las Vegas operations is Paul Gordon, senior vice president. When we spoke, final versions of all the menus were not yet in place, but they will closely resemble the samples Gordon sent.
Prices in the food court are modest. A pastrami, corned beef or beef brisket sandwich with garnish in Greenberg's is just under $6. Such New York delights as egg creams are $2.95. A foot-long hot dog with fries and a medium-size beverage in Broadway Burger is just $3.95. The price range is pretty much the same in all the food court outlets.
With the Coney Island roller coaster overhead and the Big Apple sights and sounds all around, the atmosphere alone is worth the price.
Steaking a claim
Knowing that a Gallagher's Steakhouse was coming to Las Vegas triggered long-ago memories of many enjoyable meals after the theater. This Broadway favorite opened as a speakeasy in 1927 and was named for half of the famed vaudeville comedy team, Gallagher and Shean.
In the truest tradition of the genre, Gallagher's specializes in hearty, well-prepared, honest food, including the best, crunchiest hash browns in my memory bank. This carnivore's utopia serves thick succulent steaks, chops, fish, seafood and comforting side dishes -- huge baked potatoes, mashed potatoes better than mom's, homemade chips and creamed spinach. Of course, there's more.
The walls are lined with priceless photos of such old-time sports figures as Babe Ruth (Gallagher's opened the year the Babe hit 60 home runs) and Broadway stars of the time. Photos of contemporary celebrities compete for space. The same decor and such special features as the aging room have been replicated in Las Vegas.
Peer through the window to see the racks of prime steaks aging. All the beef is air-aged for 21 days. The aging room is visible from inside and outside the restaurant. It's quite a sight. And, for a steakhouse, Gallagher's serves some delectable home-style desserts at both lunch and dinner, including apple pie, pecan pie and a scrumptious mud cake.
America serves moderately-priced regional American foods from breakfast through dinner. Typically offered are a Rhode Island traditional turkey dinner, Chesapeake Bay crab cake sandwich, a deep-fried Santa Fe club sandwich filled with guacamole and grilled chicken, California sushi rolls and Mississippi-style fried catfish. Menu items represent just about every state.
If there's one thread that binds together the restaurants in New York-New York, it's the people who developed the concepts. Take New York-New York's Il Fornaio Italian restaurant-bakery.
Lawrence B. Mindel, chairman and CEO of Il Fornaio America Corp., is credited with the dramatic growth and success of the company since he took over in January 1987. The company now owns and operates 14 restaurants (Cucine Italiane), 10 retail bakeries (panetterie) and six production bakeries (panafici).
The stores were founded by baker Carlo Veggetti, and his family (longtime purveyers of espresso machines and bakery cases) of Florence, Italy. To help preserve the tradition of the neighborhood bakery, he founded the Il Fornaio Baking School. Graduates would purchase a complete Ill Fornaio store, including fixtures and recipes. There are now more than 3,000 Il Fornaio-built bakeries around the world.
Of the outlets in California where I've dined my favorite was the one in Del Mar with its large patio and sweeping view of the ocean.
Il Fornaio Las Vegas Managing Partner Lino Chini was the opening manager at the Del Mar restaurant. Mindel considers Chini "the consummate restaurateur, from his passion for great Italian food to his dedication to warm professional service. Lino operates at a level seldom seen in this business."
Il Fornaio in New York-New York is a spacious contemporary dining room with a handsome, separate bar area. High-tech pizza ovens and sleek decor somehow manage to be warm and inviting. Dine at the bar facing the pizza ovens and see the savory pies come out of the ovens.
Food prices are moderate. Pasta dishes start around $9.50, house specialities at $12.50. Specialities include a marinated 22-ounce porterhouse, mesquite grilled vegetables served with grilled polenta, rotisserie roasted duck and chicken, an array of select antipasti and pasta dishes galore.
Outside there's a sizeable patio with a brook running by. It's not Del Mar, but it's lovely. Il Fornaio will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The separate bakery and coffeehouse features the wonderful Il Fornaio speciality breads and rolls, including a raisin bread that is without peer, and European-style coffees and newspapers on racks for reading while enjoying a freshly brewed espresso.
Between Il Fornaio and Gallagher's stands two giant chopsticks marking the entrance to Chin Chin, a California-inspired Chinese restaurant. Although one of California's own, Chin Chin's exterior design looks like a typical New York brownstone, complete with worn brick and mortar dripping from the concrete moldings.
Inside is the clean, contemporary design that marks Chin Chin, as well as the handsome stainless-steel exhibition kitchen that defines it.
Owner Bob Mandler practiced law for 17 years before making time to pursue his real passion -- Chinese food. For nine years he studied Chinese cooking with the illustrious Madam Wong. With encouragement from his wife, TV writer Nancy Sackett, he abandoned law for the siren sound of sizzling rice.
Using a California approach to the ancient cuisine, Mandler has built his reputation on the moderately-priced, tasty dim sum, appetizers and entrees served in Chin Chin. Lighter and healthier, Chin Chin's dishes are cooked without MSG and are low on salt and oil. Like all Chin Chin's, the New York-New York eatery will serve lunch and dinner. Not to be missed are the chocolate-dipped fortune cookies.
Another dining option, Motown Cafe Las Vegas, is situated on the other side of the casino. Ask Chef John Botkin why Motown Cafe should be considered more restaurant than entertainment and he'll tell you, "Because at Motown Cafe the most important thing, first and foremost, is the food, and it's good for the soul."
In this incarnation of Motown, dedicated to the music of the golden era, enjoy specialities not found on the New York Motown menu. Botkin has added a barbecued brisket and chicken chef's salad and chicken jambalaya to the large carte of Southern and soul food specialities, including collard greens.
Prices in New York-New York are slightly less than in the Big Apple.
New York-New York, it's a wonderful hotel, and like its namesake is a "fresser's" idea of paradise.