For decades, I’ve noted the vast difference in the level of culinary experiences found in major metropolitan cities versus suburban areas (obviously, there are great exceptions). First, it was Albany versus Manhattan, then Long Island versus Manhattan, then the Hamptons versus Manhattan. Naturally comparing the culinary scene in any place against Manhattan isn’t really fair. I originally landed in the Hamptons because it felt like a cross between parts of Manhattan and Cape Cod. But other suburban areas have become important culinary and vinous hot spots in a shorter time.
First, I began hearing about the great food and wine experiences that could be found in Florida. I also discovered impressive culinary and vinous programs in places like Aspen and Vail, Colorado. Then I spent a weekend in Las Vegas. You know, that crude gambling town full of sex and depravity. The culinary and vinous scene there is one of the best I have experienced. I’d always thought everything would be just big and over-the-top: Giant steaks, big, obvious wines (Opus One, Tignanello, Latours and the lot way overpriced), caviar and Cristal by the gallon. Of course, there was plenty of that, but what surprised me was the diversity and quality of the dining. Great restaurants showcasing cuisines of China, France, Italy, Japan, Morocco, India, Brazil, etc., and wine programs to suit those cuisines.
Given only a weekend, I only sampled a handful of the restaurants, all were very impressive, the most being Michael Mina Restaurant in The Bellagio Hotel. The place came highly recommended, so I expected excellent food and was not disappointed. But the surprise was the service. It was the finest I’ve ever had in any restaurant. While I was thrilled with the experience, this combined with the other dining in Las Vegas actually depressed me. I can’t understand why we can’t achieve this here on Long Island (especially in the Hamptons) and it makes me actually hope for the Shinnecock Nation’s success in opening a casino on the east end. It would be great for the whole culinary and wine scene.
But I remain confident that we can collectively achieve a Vegas level of restaurant quality before a casino moves in. The key is that we need to create the culture here for respecting the culinary experience. What’s the answer? I personally feel an elegant, classy casino is a great answer, but just knowing that other places have developed into world-class culinary destinations without casinos, and further from such a wealthy city as New York, should make it a worthy goal and prove that it is possible. I also know it will take more than one restaurant or hotel to make this transition—it will take a group of like-minded restaurateurs. So lets get it going, please.