Sin City is home to a lot of restaurants and bars, but there are tons of hidden gems that the majority of Las Vegans aren’t unearthing. To help guide readers to these potential discoveries, Eater Vegas enlisted some of the city’s food players to share their recommendations for a feature dubbed Dining Confidential.
Those whimsical cakes at Wynn and Encore Las Vegas come at the hands of Flora Aghababyan, the master cake artist for the resorts. She grew up in Armenia, learning to bake as a child. After working in several Russian and Armenian bakeries, Aghababyan moved to the United States in 2000 to work as a pastry chef at Chalet Pastry in Hollywood, and later moved to Las Vegas to focus on multi-dimensional cakes and pastries at the Bellagio. By 2007, she joined Wynn. She appeared on Food Network Challenge, and her cakes and pastries have been featured in People, Star, Wedding Style, and Brides magazines. Pastry Professional Magazine even named her one of the top 10 cake artists in North America. She even won the grand prize at the Grand National Wedding Cake Competition in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2010 for her interpretation of the Ettal Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria, Germany. Here, Aghababyan shares some of her favorite places to dine in Las Vegas.
Do you remember your first trip to Vegas? What happened that was memorable?
I was living in LA and many of my friends were telling me that I just had to go to Vegas. I was always working and was in need of a mini-vacation so I came here because it was close and I’d heard so many great things about it. At that time, I was managing a bakery in LA whose owners just so happened to be looking into Vegas for expansion so they offered to transfer me here and I said yes right away — while I was on vacation! It may have been fate.
What made you decide to move to Las Vegas?
This job opportunity popped up at the same time that I was here so I felt compelled to just stay. Within months, I got offered amazing opportunities to works with Caesars and Aladdin (which is now Planet Hollywood) simultaneously, and shortly after, I joined the Bellagio team within the same year I moved here. I worked there for five years.
Where do you like to eat breakfast in Las Vegas?
It’s not often that I eat out for breakfast, but when I do on the occasional weekend, I really like Veranda at the Four Seasons. They have plenty of light and healthy options, and a great selection of omelets to start your day with.
What about lunch?
I really like Leone Café in Tivoli Village. They have great desserts and coffee options, and lovely outdoor seating. I prefer lighter dishes so their salads are a great choice. They toss them with fresh fruits and all sorts of nuts, served with the perfect amount of dressing.
If you’re going out for dinner, which restaurants do you like to frequent? What makes them special? Any dishes you can recommend?
For dinner, I love Sen of Japan on Desert Inn. It’s cozy and charming, and the chef is so friendly and always has fantastic recommendations. The fish is consistently fresh so everything tastes great, but definitely go for the weekly specials. The Cajun albacore with garlic ponzu is delicious, as well as the garlic yellowtail, and fluke crudo with truffle oil.
Where do you like to dine for a special occasion?
Joël Robuchon is the ultimate special occasion restaurant. When my friends visit Las Vegas from all over Europe, they want the glamorous and exciting Vegas atmosphere, but in a sophisticated and intimate setting — and this place is it. The staff makes you the center of attention and no detail goes unnoticed. I remember a beautiful pan-fried sea bass with lemongrass foam, the bread cart with delicious saffron rolls and savory cheese breads, and this little whimsical dessert called Le Papillon; it’s like a fairy tale in a glass! I also love Picasso for special occasions. I recently went for my birthday and can’t wait to go back.
Are there any brunches in town you like to frequent?
I love Tableau here at Wynn. They change the menu often so you know the ingredients they are using are very seasonal and fresh. The garden and pool views are just gorgeous and often make me think I’m on vacation and my cake studio isn’t really below us.
Let’s say you want to hang out with your friends or family after work. Where do you like to go?
When my friends or out-of-town family want to grab dinner, I like going to Mon Ami Gabi. It’s a large restaurant but feels intimate at the same time. You have to grab a seat on the patio for magical views of the fountains, and you absolutely must save room for the flourless chocolate cake. If we’re dining off-strip after work, I like taking my friends to Sen of Japan or Meraki Grill.
• All Dining Confidentials [ELV]