First Taste: LAVO

This gastropub offers the kind of lavishness we’d expect from Sin City, with an over-the-top take on molecular gastronomy.

LAVO, the new restaurant/nightclub concept from the team behind Tao, offers the kind of excess most of us have come to expect from Las Vegas. The name—Latin for “to bathe”—isn’t apropos of anything other than the chance to invoke the decadent spirit that rules here. Curvy women bathing while standing up in Turkish water basins beckon patrons to a sprawling nightclub upstairs. The dining room is just as sexy and self-assured, with a 20-foot wood ceiling, a glass and wood screened bridge, and an enormous wall of carved stone.

But Bacchus would be a regular here, thanks to the equally self-confident cooking of Burgundian chef Ludo Lefebvre. The chef, who has L.A.’s L’Orangerie and Bastide on his resume, has reined in the sometimes over-the-top take on molecular gastronomy that led him to dishes like popcorn-battered chicken and cocoa mayonnaise, and the result is gastropub food that rivals any served in this country.

Starting with a deconstructed Bloody Mary is a must. Lefebvre has concocted a conceit that looks like a red macaroon from a three-star restaurant’s dessert cart, but the surprise is a hoot—it’s actually a frozen confection that conveys the drink’s spicy kick. The celery emulsion and vodka gelée that accompanies it is sheer genius.

The menu is filled with little dishes you want to eat, and one or two that you may need to be talked into. Greek salad with a feta cheese mousse is ingredient driven and delicate, while sardines a la plancha, done with a tomato, lemon, and garlic crostini, make you wish that more chefs in this country would serve these fish. Wacky fare like Reuben-stuffed knish sliders, done as a trio of sliders, and caramelized salmon with honey, orange, and vadouvan, a south Indian spice mixture, both turn out to be super. But Lefebvre’s not neglecting the more conservative crowd this time, so steak frites, linguine with clams, and a proper paella Valenciana get equal billing on his eclectic menu.

LAVO The Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino, 3325 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas (702-791-1800;

Subscribe to Gourmet