If I was feeling protein deprived before I went to Las Vegas, I'm not now. At the Hard Rock Hotel's 11-month-old Simon (where the Rolling Stones had Thanksgiving), chef Kerry Simon offers a 20-ounce rib-eye cowboy steak; he also serves an excellent buffalo-mozzarella pizza, and cotton candy for dessert. The city's best surprise is Nine (they spell it N9NE), created by Scott DeGraff and Michael Morton, of the legendary Chicago steak family; it's at the hip-hop-playing The Palms resort. The menu lists meat under the heading 1200° F. I also loved the perfectly fried rock shrimp in a Chinese-takeout container and "garbage" salad, which mixes romaine, shrimp, Roquefort cheese and salami. Unlike most of the city's high-profile restaurants, which close by 11 p.m., Nine serves until 1 a.m.which was good news for the bachelorettes dancing on the bar. (And if you want to stay out after that, the white hot Ghostbar, on the 55th floor, is open "until very late," the bouncer says.)
For other off-hours dining options, there's the new Bradley Ogden at Caesar's, where I had an excellent slider, a little burger topped with ketchup, mustard and aioli, as an afternoon snack. Nobhill, at the MGM Grandalso home to Craftsteak and Fiammahas a tasty mini foie-gras sandwich; the place opens at 5:30 p.m.
During the day, the best place to eat and drink, if you don't feel like standing on an endless buffet line, is poolside. At the Bellagio, whose top-tier restaurants include Picasso, Prime and Le Cirque, a half dozen pools are a luxurious setting for a liquid lunch. I liked the Mango Fizz, made with fresh orange and lemon juices, mango puree and rum. Action is also starting to happen well off the Strip. The Ritz set up shop about half an hour east, but I checked out Green Valley Ranch, a newish resort about 20 minutes south of Las Vegas Boulevard. Its pool mimics a beach, with a sloping sandy edge and lapping waves, and the scene is pure Miami. I spent the day in the sun, lounging on a giant outdoor bed and working up an appetite for dinner.