Gourmet mainstay: Michael’s carries the old-school torch
Wed, Feb 13, 2013 (2:01 p.m.)
Photo: Leila Navidi
You probably don’t have a Valentine’s Day dinner reservation at Michael’s. That’s okay. There’s always next year. Vegas is brimming with special-occasion restaurants, but when you want to celebrate with old-school style, Michael’s is the room.
- South Point, 796-7111.
- Daily, 5:30-10 p.m.
It’s resoundingly quiet, a hard-to-find trait in Vegas dining. Whether you’re in a plush booth or regal high-backed chair, it feels like you’re in your own private restaurant. The menu hasn’t changed much in 30 years, which explains the presence of baked escargot, Coquille St. Jacques, chateaubriand for two and cherries jubilee for dessert. So few of these old gourmet rooms are still around, and none are in this pristine condition. Only Michael’s has been frozen in time, unbelievable considering it has lived in two different casinos.
It opened August 4, 1982, modeled after the Flamingo’s Candelight Room, one of the Strip’s legendary gourmet rooms. “It was the spot, the most sought after,” Michael Gaughan says of the Candlelight Room. Gaughan built the Barbary Coast next door to the Flamingo and opened it in 1979. Once it started attracting top players, he needed a fancy restaurant to keep them around at night.
Steve Delmont worked as the room manager at Candlelight, so Gaughan recruited him to open Michael’s, an intimate space with a tiny kitchen. Jose Martel, the maître d’ who joined the team six months after opening, described the space as a laundry room, and it’s not clear if he was joking. But if it was small—nine booths, five seats at the bar—it was fabulous. “It was slow the first few months, but within nine months you couldn’t get a table. We made a fortune,” Gaughan says. “We didn’t need to advertise it at all.”
When Boyd Gaming acquired Coast Casinos, Michael’s stayed open at Barbary and Gaughan stayed in control. But when Harrah’s—now Caesars Entertainment—bought the property, Gaughan closed the restaurant and decided to move it to his new casino, now known as South Point. After paying his staff’s salaries for six months of time off, Gaughan opened the bigger but somehow just as intimate Michael’s on April 18, 2007.
It’s not a reproduction; it’s the same restaurant. Same deep shades of red. Same stained glass dome in the center of the ceiling. Same luscious Dover sole, light egg batter on the veal Francaise, cheesecake from Carnegie Deli and stone crabs fresh from Florida.
And most importantly, the same people: Delmont, who appreciates the absence of “foo-foo” at Michael’s. “It’s not like some of these fancy places, where you have to get a hamburger afterwards.” The perpetually smiling chef Fred Bielek, who has been there from Day 1, always obsessed with consistency. Martel, also on board more than 30 years, and assistant chef Mario Fernandez, who’s been in this kitchen 16 years. Only at Michael’s does 16 years make you the kid on the team.
They just don’t make ’em like they used to. Remember that next February 14, or on your anniversary, or your birthday. Michael’s is still the room.