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Steve Wynn, I’m Glad You’re a Vegan and All But Would You Please Read This? Thank you.

October 1, 2010

If I may rant for a minute…

As I mentioned a few days ago, Andy and I visited Las Vegas September 6-9 to celebrate my ?nd birthday on the 7th.  The highlight of our trip was supposed to be a decadent vegan feast at one of the dining establishments in mogul Steve Wynn’s resorts: Wynn Las Vegas or Encore Las Vegas.  Wynn, a vegan himself supposedly, recently decided that every restaurant in his resorts would offer vegan options.

After reading this article, I was super-excited for the opportunity to enjoy cruelty-free chow–ordered directly from the menu, no omissions or substitutions!–amidst the glitz and gaudiness of the Strip.

Well, if our meal at Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare,* located in the Wynn resort, was any indication of the quality of service and cuisine vegans can expect at one of his restaurants, Steve Wynn can keep his vegan food as far as I’m concerned.

Someone needs to go back to the drawing board.

When we returned to Denver, I wrote a letter to David Snyder, executive chef of both resorts, and have yet to receive a response.  I’ll admit it’s not my best writing, but hey I was still a bit angry.

Dear Mr. Snyder:

News that both the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas resorts would be offering vegan choices in all of their restaurants spread throughout the vegan Facebook community faster than a good cupcake recipe.

When an article about the Wynn’s new menu offerings popped up in my newsfeed, I immediately commented: “I’m so there!!” And I wasn’t bluffing. Being a flight attendant, I was able to get myself and my boyfriend from Denver to Las Vegas shortly after reading the article—just in time for my birthday on September 7.

When my boyfriend, Andrew, made our reservation, he mentioned twice that I’m a vegan and he’s a vegetarian. We expected the staff of a restaurant of Bertolotta’s caliber (read: price point) to know exactly what to do from there.

However, our evening at Bartolotta taught me that simply having vegan choices on a restaurant menu is not enough. Having a sensitive, knowledgeable staff and chefs who don’t need dairy (or other animal-based foods) to make their food flavorful are key to a pleasurable dining experience.

Even though Andrew and I arrived early, we were seated almost immediately. As we took our seats, I never imagined we’d have an audience of glassy fish eyes staring at us, from the glass case being wheeled from table to table. I held up my menu to shield myself from the pitiful looks until Andrew let the server know what was up.

“They’re already dead!” the server’s assistant murmured jokingly as he brought our bread.

“I’m quite aware,” I replied through my teeth.

After getting what appeared to be the restaurant’s only copy of the vegan/vegetarian menu to share between us, we placed our order.

The meal started out well. My Grey-Goose-Martini-sans-vermouth was perfectly chilled and smooth. The bread we received was crusty, warm and fresh, accompanied by fruity, zingy olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I started with a simple salad of sautéed arugula and mushrooms that was so good I was tempted to just order another one and call it an evening.

The main course, on the other hand… I ordered risotto with summer vegetables, expecting a comforting bowl of Arborio rice topped with crisp chunks of colorful vegetables. What I got was an artless white bowl of goo with flecks of green, which were bits of cucumber, tips of asparagus, and peas. Bleh. Flavorless, and worst of all, undercooked—the rice was unpleasantly chewy, sticking in my teeth.

Andrew fared slightly better, with linguine, tomato sauce and mushrooms. As he slurped it up, filling me with envy, he said the dish was “okay.”

When the server asked how we liked our meals, I shrugged and said the risotto was undercooked. He said that the risotto was “al dente,” explaining that Italians cook it this way because it keeps them from getting fat. I can only assume that this cooking method keeps people thin because there’s no way they’d be able to eat much of it.

I also mentioned that the risotto lacked flavor. “That’s because there’s no cheese,” the server replied matter-of-factly. So… because I’m a vegan and choose not to eat cheese, I’m supposed to have bland food?

After some visible hesitation on the part of the server (and my part as well), I was able to order a replacement entrée: rigatoni with tomato sauce, topped with fried eggplant. It was okay. At least the pasta was slightly less “al dente” than the risotto. I only managed to get a few bites down before I realized what the server had been talking about: undercooked risotto swelled up in my tummy, and I had to put my fork down lest I explode.

There’s always room for dessert though, and I received a special one for my birthday. I don’t know what it was called, but it was a rectangle of vanilla “ice cream,” with a crunchy layer of chocolate underneath. “Happy Birthday” was written on the plate in chocolate, and it was lit by a single candle. Delightful! It tasted like a cold version of crème brulee.


But sigh…I was only able to finish half of it, while Andrew got the check.

$125!!!! PLUS TIP!!!

We were expecting the meal to be expensive. But we were also expecting it to be a whole lot better than it was.

I am originally from Cincinnati. There are several upscale “omnivore” restaurants in my hometown that were able to prepare a decadent, flavorful vegan meal for me, with little to no notice. Those restaurants never formally announced a special vegan menu, the way the Wynn resorts have—they just did their thing and did it well. You mean to tell me that I can get better food in Cincinnati than I can on the Strip in Las Vegas??**

Overall, I’m grateful for your decision to offer vegan / vegetarian meals and hope you’ll continue to do so. I’m writing to you because I hope you’ll take note of my experience and use it to make improvements so you can ensure that everyone has a wonderful meal at Bartolotta, as well as all the other dining establishments at the Wynn resorts. Word does travel fast in the vegan community, after all.

Sincerely,

Alecia A. Lott

P.S. It is easy for me to hop on a flight to Las Vegas; I’ve been there twice since July and plan to visit frequently. Have you ever considered hiring a vegan consultant for your restaurants? I am willing to work in exchange for food.

Anyway…told you it wasn’t my best writing… ;)

The reason I’m posting my letter today is because I just read another article about Mr. Wynn–he’s now tying his staff members to straight-backed wooden chairs and making them watch vegan documentaries on a continuing loop, only pausing to let them drink wheatgrass shakes.  Okay, okay, okay maybe not so much.  Though I think his heart’s in the right place, he’s clearly missing what’s important.

I don’t want Steve Wynn to be perceived as some hero just because he’s offering vegan food now.  Big fucking deal–you can get vegan food at Taco Bell (ahh, the lowly bean burrito, my savior on so many financially-challenged nights).  Who the hell cares if the food is vegan, if the food SUCKS?

Mr. Wynn–if you happen to be reading–I propose that you do the following:

  1. TRAIN YOUR CHEFS.  TRAIN YOUR CHEFS.  TRAIN YOUR CHEFS.  Make them understand that the vegan dishes should be given just as much (if not more) attention and care as the non-vegan ones.  Have them visit some vegan restaurants to get some pointers.  Have them talk to vegans (hey, I already volunteered!) and get feedback.  They shouldn’t just throw some slop on a plate and expect me to be all excited just because it’s devoid of animal ingredients–that’ll only get you so far.  Impress me, dammit!  I’m on vacation, I got all dressed up for this, and I’m paying just as much as the meat-eaters, for food that cost you far less!
  2. TRAIN YOUR STAFF.  TRAIN YOUR STAFF.  TRAIN YOUR STAFF.  (And no, I don’t mean sitting them down in front of a TV.)  If someone announces their veganism before visiting one of your restaurants, the staff should plan accordingly.  A vegan should not have a case full of dead animals wheeled in front of their table.  (I don’t even think people who eat meat truly enjoy looking at a case full of dead animals!)  A vegan in an upscale establishment should not be given butter for their bread, only to wait for what seems like an eternity to get olive oil/balsamic instead.  Above all, no one should be telling them–or even implying–that their food is less than the highest quality because something is “missing.”
  3. Print more than one copy of the friggin’ vegan/vegetarian menu per restaurant!  And make it available on your website as well.  (I called the Wynn resort to request a copy of Bartolotta’s vegan menu via email, and was supposed to receive it within the hour.  That was two weeks ago.)  Absence of menus is just another example of the lack of preparedness that I perceived.

Mr. Wynn, if you’re going to have vegan food in your restaurants and announce the fact to the entire world, I believe you are obligated to show the world that said food can be delicious and worthwhile, that vegans don’t have to be treated like weirdos when they go out for a fancy meal.  You are obligated to be prepared when vegans actually show up to eat at one of your restaurants (what, really??).  Otherwise you’re doing the vegan movement a huge disservice.  And no amount of documentary screenings can make up for that.

*FYI, our first restaurant choice was Alex, which offers a vegan tasting menu.  Alas, they were closed on my birthday.
**No offense, Cincinnati–I was simply trying to make a point.  Besides, I can insult Cincy because I’m from there. :)  Right?
20 Comments leave one →
  1. October 5, 2010 3:11 am

    I’m sorry to hear your Wynn experience wasn’t a good one. I would also expect it to be awesome food and was considering a Vegas trip.
    By the way, I envy your job! I want to fly with a vegan stewardess!

    • October 6, 2010 9:56 pm

      Thanks Melisser! Yeah the food was bad but I did have a nice evening with my honey and a fun birthday overall. :) Since I wrote this (and sent a link to @WynnLasVegas via Twitter), a Wynn representative offered us a free meal at another one of their restaurants… Now we just need someone to comp us a hotel stay and we’ll be all set! lol Viva Las Vegas!!

  2. Vegan in Vegas permalink
    October 9, 2010 4:47 pm

    One of my friends works for Wynn food service (office not restaurants).

    I was told that several chefs have (or are threatening to) quit because they can’t think outside the box regarding vegan food. Basically the vegan menus translate to salads, soups, hummus and the dreaded “grilled veggie plate”. And why do the buffets have JUST VEGAN DESSERTS – no vegan entrees? Weird!

    I offered copies of my vegan cookbooks (Veganomicrom, 1000 Vegan Recipes, Vegan cupcakes/cookies take over… etc) to my friend to give to the chefs. So far no takers. I also gave them the vegadvantage.org website. Who knows what will happen in the next couple of months?

    And I told my friend to tell the powers that be that is is JUST WRONG charging the same price for vegan food as for the animal products. Produce does NOT cost the same as dead flesh.

    • October 9, 2010 6:57 pm

      Vegan in Vegas:
      WTF? Just desserts at the buffets? I did not know this. Whose bright idea was that?

      Wow, you’re really bumming me out….I love me some hummus, but I don’t go to nice restaurants (or ANY restaurant) to get friggin hummus. Just the mention of the “grilled veggie plate” sent shivers down my spine. NO MORE GREASY ZUCCHINI!! NO MORE PORTOBELLO MUSHROOMS MARINATED IN BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE!! AGGGHHHHH!!!! Is there an annual underground “clichéd vegan foods” seminar, somewhere in the US?

      On the one hand, I kinda want the stubborn idiot chefs to leave so they can hire more open-minded, creative ones. :) Or at least some who aren’t afraid to crack open a vegan cookbook…

      On the other hand, what I’m afraid will happen is enough chefs will threaten to quit that the whole vegan “experiment” (which is what this is, in my opinion) will be scrapped altogether. Which sends a very bad message: if award-winning chefs in Las Vegas can’t handle vegan cuisine, how is the average home chef supposed to do it?

      And I totally agree about the prices! Grrr it makes me so mad at other restaurants, when there is nothing vegan on the menu–not even a “plain” salad–so I order a grilled chicken salad without chicken and it still costs $12! Give me a break!

      Stay strong, keep pushing those vegan cookbooks! :)

      • Vegan in Vegas permalink
        October 9, 2010 9:21 pm

        The “official” menu:
        ALEX – fava bean puree with sauteed hon shimeji mushrooms, snap pea salad and aged balsamic vinegar (TRANSLATION = HUMMUS)

        SOCIETY CAFE ENCORE – market chopped salad with avocado, carrots, celery, pumpkin seeds, edamame and tarragon vinaigrette (NO TRANSLATION NEEDED – A FREAKING SALAD)

        BOTERO- summer vegetable gratin (OH NO MR BILL, A VEGGIE PLATE)

        BARTOLOTTA – risotto con verdure di stagione (risotto whipped with seasonal vegetables) (NO EXPLANATION – SEE ABOVE)

        TABLEAU – tofu with ratatouille and fried eggplant

        COUNTRY CLUB – watermelon gazpacho with avocado, jicama, tomato, cucumber, cilantro and yucca crisp (WATERMELON SOUP???? – THAT’S A FREAKING MEAL?????)

        STRATTA – whole wheat pasta primavera (OH BOY, SUCH CULINARY INSPIRATION)

        SW – grilled royal trumpet mushrooms with creamy polenta and shallot balsamic sauce (GEE.. GRILLED VEGGIES – HOW ORIGINAL)

        Asian restaurants are a touch more interesting:
        WAZUZU – crunch roll with crispy asparagus, avocado, cucumber and arare (VEGAN SUSHI?)

        OKADA – cold soba noodle

        WING LEI – crispy tofu with sugar pea, water chestnut, carrot and bean sprout

        SINATRA – blueberry cobbler with toasted almond ice cream

        SWITCH – banana crepes with coconut ice cream and avocado mousse

        That’s it. How mainstream 1970s vegan can you get? As for it being an experiment… rumor around town is the latest Stevobabe is vegan so she wants to be able to eat SOMETHING at the properties. Still no confirmation regarding Steve himself…

        On the other hand … brand-new veg ice cream store (Atomic #7) 0pened by Galleria Mall (way off strip). 90% of ingredients are CERTIFIED vegan, she uses soy, coconut, rice or almond milks to make the ice cream. Also vegan smoothies. Everything made to order. That’s where I spend my money – sometimes 3/4x a week :-)

      • October 11, 2010 11:22 am

        VV:
        Thanks for sharing some of the menu choices! Especially since the menus don’t seem to be available anywhere else online… hmm wonder why. Shame, perhaps? :p Lesson learned: no more fancy restaurants where I can’t see the menu before I sit down!

        That “risotto con verdure blah blah flah” was what I had at Bartolotta… gross. No wonder I didn’t remember the name of it–so long and pretentious! I don’t even know what to say when I look at all these “choices.” If I were in a casual restaurant around the corner these things would probably sound fantastic, but would I pay $15-20+ a plate for any of this stuff? Oh hell no!

        Seriously–not to sound like an armchair quarterback–but why won’t these chefs ask for HELP?? Throwing a few expensive veggies into a dish (to make up for all the cheap stuff) and giving it a long name is not going to make it taste good.

        Well, I’m gonna try this vegan ice cream place out next time I go–thanks! Already doing my research, found the website. :)
        Take care!
        –Alecia

      • October 16, 2010 10:02 am

        Oh, hey, Vegan in Vegas, if you’re out there: do you have any other suggestions for restaurants in Vegas? Just curious… I don’t mind getting away from the Strip as long as it’s accessible by public transportation… we’re usually too cheap for taxis. :) Let me know!

  3. Vegan in Vegas permalink
    October 17, 2010 8:42 pm

    Aleica,
    All of these are accessible by bus system (rtcsnv.com)
    1. Red Velvet Cafe (Sahara & Buffalo – west side)
    2. Elixir Cafe (Eastern & Richmar) – south
    3. Go Raw (Eastern & Windmill) – east
    4. Veggie Delight (Wynn & Spring Mtn) – Chinatown
    5. Mint Indian Bistro (E Flamingo & Maryland) – east
    6. Samosa Indian (W Sahara & Decatur) – west

    This one is about 1.5 miles away from the closest bus:
    Mikos Izakaya Sushi (E Windmill & Bermuda) – south

    They are all reviewed at HappyCow.

    • October 18, 2010 6:40 pm

      Vegan:
      WOW!! Thanks! Well after I’m thoroughly disappointed by my meal at Encore sometime next month (ha), I will be hitting up a couple of these places. And you know me, there will be photos… ;)
      You’re awesome, thanks for the wealth of information! I’ve been to Vegas about 4 times now but I’ve only scratched the surface.
      –A

  4. shelly permalink
    October 25, 2010 6:43 pm

    Aleica,
    Here’s another one. I just read about your falafel cart in Denver and this popped into mind.

    Sababa (Desert Inn & Durango) – west side – on bus route
    Not technically vegan, but they do make the BEST falafel in Vegas. They are originally from Israel and the falafel is the best I’ve tasted. I add the armba (sp? – bright yellow mango? tamarind? sauce) and boy is it delish…
    Shelly

  5. Katarina permalink
    August 1, 2011 10:10 pm

    I absolutely love the vegan menu Steve offers at the Wynn. I find the food to be delicious and I will only stay and dine at the Wynn when I visit Vegas.

    • August 2, 2011 7:42 am

      Well I’m glad to hear that, Katrina. :) I can only speak from my own personal experience. The food and service were not what they should have been, but perhaps things have vastly improved–it has been almost a year. Ironically, I now live in LV and never go to the Strip. Can you share which restaurants/dishes are your favorite?

      • Vegas Vegan permalink
        August 4, 2011 12:05 am

        Alecia,
        I think Steve now has Tal Ronen “consulting” on dishes/menu. I know there’s now a Gardein entree at one of the restaurants. Coffee shop maybe??

        I agree – you live in Las Vegas – you don’t go anywhere near LV Blvd.! Period. End of discussion.

  6. Daisy Marsh permalink
    December 26, 2011 7:55 am

    Being respectful of a vegan lifestyle is a noble calling. It sounds like your meal was better than you are expressing. I applaud Steve Wynn’s restaurant staff for making every effort to cater to your lifestyle choice. I would venture that of all the guests at that particular resort that night your dietary choice might be a very small percentage of all the choices represented. The fact that it is honored at all is cause for celebration not distain and ingratitude. Steve Wynn and his excellent chefs, servers, hosts, bartenders, etc. are artists in the world of service – it’s what they do and they do it well. Perhaps you might want to find a vegan restaurant that is specialized in making the kind of food that you prefer with the flavor that you require and without the eyes of fishes who will give their lives to excite my palate gazing mournfully at you, inciting guilt and sorrow in your heart and soul. I suggest you reexamine your expectations and offer a small amount of gratitude.

    • December 27, 2011 5:12 pm

      Daisy, the meal was exactly as I expressed. I did enjoy some parts of the meal, I enjoyed having a nice “date” with my then-boyfriend, and I enjoyed the day (my birthday) as a whole. This blog post was written over a year ago so of course I’ve had a chance to mellow out a bit, BUT I still stand by what I wrote.

      Saying that being respectful of anyone’s “lifestyle” is a “noble calling” is a bit much to me. Being respectful is simply the right thing to do.

      Ungrateful, you say? Why is “gratitude” toward a restaurant something that a restaurant guest has to have? We didn’t get the food for free. They offered a product, we paid for it. I later wrote an unflattering blog post about said product because I felt it was not a good value. What if I buy a vegan cookbook on Amazon, and I try all the recipes and they all taste like moldy cardboard? Should I just say “Oh well, at least it was vegan! La la la!” in my review and call it a day?

      (I was/am grateful to have a meal when others are starving, to have clothes on my back, a roof over my head, air in my lungs, to have lived to celebrate my 32nd birthday, to have had a job where I could fly to Las Vegas for free, and so on but I don’t think that’s what you meant…)

      You make it sound as though the Wynn was doing me some enormous favor by deigning to serve me a vegan meal at all and that I should be flipping cartwheels for whatever slop they put in front of me as long as it’s free of animal products. Come on, now! If this were, say, 20 years ago, when vegan choices weren’t as plentiful, then maybe I’d be less discerning. That doesn’t mean I would have gone back for seconds, I just would have been a little quieter since I wouldn’t have had much basis for comparison. However, we’re now at a (very exciting) point where there’s enough competition out there that those who choose to make vegan food actually have to make it taste good. Imagine that!

      Artists in the world of service? Maybe your experiences at the Wynn resorts have been beyond fabulous but not so much for me. I can name a billion other restaurants (vegan and omni, cheap and expensive) where the service and food were vastly superior. No, Steve Wynn’s staff did not make EVERY effort to cater to my “lifestyle choice.” They made a very minimal effort. Yes, I was aware going in that this was primarily a seafood restaurant, but if the restaurant has a vegan menu (hello!) then they should be prepared to put as much thought and effort into the vegan food as they would the seafood. Besides, Andy and I did not just walk in unannounced and demand that they make vegan food, they knew we were coming. I don’t care if I’m one guest in 1,000 who orders vegan food–if you’re not going to do it right, then don’t do it at all.

      How exactly were the eyes of the fish “inciting guilt and sorrow” in my heart and soul? Sorrow, maybe, but certainly not guilt… I wasn’t planning to eat them! :) I just think that having carcasses “looking” at me before I’m about to eat is unappetizing, and I’m surprised more people don’t feel the same way. Yick.

    • Vegas Vegas permalink
      December 27, 2011 6:39 pm

      To quote a post from the Washington Post:
      “From a business perspective in a poor economy, restaurants and caterers who choose not to market to vegan consumers do so at their own risk. Agreed the number of vegans is small compared to those who would be content eating a meal with animal products. But what these *business people* perhaps have not considered is that the vegan community embraces good vegan service with a *huge* amount of referral marketing via blogs and word of mouth. While the community is not large, our impact usually is.”

      Your phrase “the eyes of fishes who will give their lives to excite my palate” says it all. You will never “get” what Alecia is saying.

      • January 1, 2012 7:06 pm

        Exactly, Vegas!! Thanks for that quote. We vegans/vegetarians, perhaps more than any other restaurant consumer group, LOVE to spread the word about eateries we’ve visited. Why? Because we know how difficult it can be to find the places that truly “get it.” News of one bad experience can scare away many would-be guests, so restaurateurs need to listen up!
        Happy New Year. :)

  7. Shelly permalink
    August 9, 2012 10:44 pm

    2012 update.
    Looks like Steve/Tal have added some entrees to the menus. Good review from LA Times . guess Steve is still vegan :)

    But I still haven’t tried eating there–who can afford those prices? :(

  8. tru permalink
    December 30, 2013 7:45 pm

    I think they must have heard you. We dined at Bartolotta for our anniversary this past weekend and the whole experience was heavenly from the bar to the food to the service. The somelier was even familiar with the vegetarian and vegan menu and able to recommend a good wine to accompany what we ordered. We stayed at the Encore and ate a total of four meals in various Wynn restaurants. All were really well prepared. The staff was consistently knowledgeable and friendly.

    If you decide to go back, do not miss the chickpea fritta (I don’t remember the exact name). It was like polenta’s sophisticated older sister.

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